PARIS — France rose Tuesday to confront the smoldering remains of the Notre Dame Cathedral, as officials said they were confident they had controlled the inferno that partly destroyed the nation’s symbol. Donations began to pour in, and authorities began to take stock of the damage.
As the first rays of sun drew across the soaring cathedral — whose two rectangular towers stood tall above the nearly-totally destroyed roof and collapsed spire — firetrucks and cranes with flashing blue lights continued to fight remnants of the blaze. By mid-morning, a spokesman for the Paris fire department announced that the flames had been entirely extinguished.
From certain angles, it was almost possible to look head-on at the front of church and see its centuries-old rose windows and carved statues and imagine all was intact. But to stray to any other angle made clear the devastation. The roof was burned away, and there was an aching absence where the spire had been. Char and smoke marks licked the walls out of window frames where once there was stained glass. Water gushed in arcs onto wooden roof beams that once seemed eternal and now looked like used matchsticks.
Engineers, architects and firefighters planned to assess the structural damage first thing Tuesday, officials said. They warned they still did not know the extent of the catastrophe.
What could be lost in the blaze
“What is necessary now is to examine the structure to determine whether the building is stable,” French junior Interior Minister Laurent Nuñez told BFMTV.
The Gothic cathedral was built over centuries and partially consumed in just hours on Monday, as thousands of Parisians stood sentinel on the banks of the Seine, singing “Ave Maria” and weeping at what was happening. Not just the heart of Paris, or France — although it is — the church has stood tall as a triumph of humanity for eight centuries.
Speaking on French radio early Tuesday, Culture Minister Franck Riester said many priceless works of art in the cathedral were saved and that Notre Dame’s organ had survived. He also confirmed the preliminary reports from firefighters that they had been able to save the church’s two most hallowed relics: a tunic worn by Saint Louis, a 13th-century French king, and the crown of thorns that Jesus is said to have worn.
These objects are now in safekeeping at Paris City Hall, Riester said.
The fire made an even worse impact because of the timing
French officials planned to launch a national collection drive for the reconstruction. French luxury magnate François-Henri Pinault declared his family would dedicate 100 million euros, about $113 million, to the effort. Hours later, the family of Bernard Arnault, the CEO of the LVMH luxury conglomerate and the richest man in Europe, pledged a gift of 200 million euros, or $226 million.
On Tuesday morning, Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo floated the idea of an “international donor’s conference” that would unite philanthropists and restoration experts in Paris to raise money for targeted purposes in rebuilding Notre Dame.
Officials planned to start assessing the loss later in the day, and also to try to determine the blaze’s origins.
According to The Washington Post, Pope Francis issued a statement late Monday expressing the Vatican’s “shock and sadness” at “the news of the terrible fire that devastated the Cathedral of Notre Dame, a symbol of Christianity in France and in the world.”
“We express closeness to the French Catholics and the people of Paris and we assure our prayers for the firemen and those who are doing everything possible to face this dramatic situation,” the statement read.