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Notre Dame fire: What was saved and what was lost

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The cathedral has received more than $1 billion in pledges to rebuild

Notre Dame cathedral is pictured from the top of the Montparnasse tower, Tuesday April 16, 2019 in Paris.
AP Photo/Thibault Camus

This is a breaking news story. Please check back for updates.

A devastating fire caused extensive damage to Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris on Monday evening (local time), and the world watched in horror as flames consumed the iconic 12th-century Gothic church.

By early Tuesday, the first interior photos showed a cathedral that’s scarred, but standing (you can head over here for an hour-by-hour look at what happened). Gabriel Plus, a spokesperson for the Paris fire service, said Tuesday morning that “the entire fire is out,” and that emergency services are “surveying the movement of the structures and extinguishing smoldering residues.”

French President Emmanuel Macron vowed on Tuesday to rebuild the landmark within five years, despite the fact that the structure, Paris deputy mayor Emmanuel Gregoire remarked, has suffered “colossal damages.” The Foundation for French Heritage has launched an international fundraising campaign to rebuild Notre Dame; In total, Time reports that the cathedral has received more than $1 billion in pledges, including two French billionaires who pledged 300 million euros to help rebuild.

According to the Associated Press, the Paris prosecutor’s office opened an investigation into the fire soon after it began and that investigation continued on Wednesday. Prosecutor’s say their preliminary findings show that the fire was an accident, ruling out arson and terror-related motives, and they believe the fire began in the attic or roof of the building. “We are favoring the theory of an accident,” Paris public prosecutor Remy Heitz told reporters on Tuesday. “Nothing shows that it’s an intentional act.”

Four companies were contracted to carry out renovations at the cathedral, but only two had work in progress at the time of the fire. Le Bras Freres is the scaffolding company involved in the renovation and the company said it was cooperating with the investigation.

The Guardian reports that Julian Le Bras said that none of the 12 workers involved in the restoration were at the site when the fire broke out and that workers had left the site an hour before the fire began. Investigators have started questioning witnesses and 15 construction workers who were at the site on Monday, and on Tuesday at least 30 employees working at the landmark before the fire broke were also interviewed. These included construction workers and Notre Dame security staff.

No one was killed in the blaze, and one firefighter and two police officers were injured—about 500 firefighters battled the flames for hours before being replaced by another 500 around midnight. Junior interior minister Laurent Nuñez told reporters that firefighters battled the fire “at great risk to their own lives.”

“They saved the edifice,” Nuñez said, “but it all came down to 15-30 minutes.”

What was lost

Starting at 6:50 p.m., the fire spread quickly, toppling the cathedral’s 315-foot-tall oak spire. The spire was constructed in 1859 during a renovation led by the architect Viollet-le-Duc. At its base there were copper statues of 12 apostles and four evangelists, at its summit a metal rooster that sheltered three relics. It’s almost certain that the rooster and three relics are lost, but the 16 copper statues were removed from the roof for cleaning last week.

Made from wood, the medieval wooden interior suffered heavy damage, and two-thirds of the cathedral roof has been destroyed. The intricate wooden latticework fueled the fire on the roof, making extinguishing the fire difficult.

Early interior photos show that while the cathedral’s altar and interior stonework appears intact, huge sections of the intricate, vaulted ceilings collapsed during the fire. Architects have identified three main holes in the structure, including the spire, the transept, and the vault of the north transept.

What was saved

Jean-Francois Martins, Paris’s deputy mayor for tourism and sports, told CBS This Morning that he and others at the scene acted quickly to try to save the church’s art and artifacts as the fire spread. “We made a human chain, with our friends from the church... to get, as quick as possible, to get all the relics,” he said.

Multiple news outlets are reporting that treasures like the crown of thorns were among the items rescued, and Mayor Anne Hidalgo confirmed that the Tunic of Saint Louis and other major works were saved. French Culture Minister Franck Riester told reporters that all of the rescued art and artifacts will be transferred to the Louvre Museum to be dried out, restored, and kept safe.

Late Monday evening, the Paris Fire Brigade reported that they were able to save the cathedral’s stone structure, including the facade, the two, 226-foot twin bell towers, and the largest bell of the cathedral from the south tower. The North tower was completed in 1240, the South tower in 1250.

Notre Dame is also famous for its trio of round stained-glass windows dating to the 13th century that sit over the three main portals. The Archbishop of Paris said that all three appear not to be damaged, according to CNN.

The cathedral’s famous flying buttresses also survived the fire. The church didn’t originally have the flying buttresses in its design, but as thin, towering walls became increasingly popular in the Gothic style, architects realized they needed to add exterior supports to keep the walls from fracturing.

Paris’s deputy mayor said that the famed Great Organ, one of the most famous and largest organs in the world, remained intact although it suffered damages. Constructed in the mid-18th century by Francois Thierry, the organ has over 8,000 pipes. Finally, Le Monde is reporting that the thirteen monumental paintings in the nave survived the fire.

What comes next

The current priority at the site is to assess the safety of the surviving structure. Nuñez told journalists that the vault and the north transept pinion are especially vulnerable and need “securing.” This work could take up to 48 hours. Then, experts will assess the structure as the masonry cools, figuring out how to remove the charred wooden structure above the vaults so that the stone can be inspected.

The building also needs to dry out from the firefighting efforts, which included vast quantities of water to put out the fire. The Guardian is reporting that authorities are likely working on a plan to erect temporary roofs over the cathedral; the surviving structure is currently exposed to the elements.