The Notre Dame Cathedral has a way of bringing people together: It’s a juxtaposition of old architecture in modern times, a bastion of both religion and art, and the beautiful cathedral opens its doors to those who practice as well as those who do not.
Notre Dame is frequented by locals and tourists, providing as iconic an image of France as any — and so when it went up in flames on April 15, during Holy Week, the loss was felt around the world.
Many people were glued to their screens, watching the disaster from countries away. Others were on site, singing “Ave Maria” as the flames claimed the spire and consumed parts of the roof.
In the initial chaos surrounding the incident, it was unclear just how many artifacts and relics were doomed. The building itself was in peril, but so too were its intricate stained-glass windows, great organ and choir organ, artwork, relics and statues.
The prognosis looked grim in the beginning. Even if the fire itself didn’t destroy some of the pieces, the damage resulting from the water used to put the fire out would, which meant saving the priceless art was doubly tricky for firefighters.
“We express closeness to the French Catholics and the people of Paris and we assure our prayers for the firefighters and those who are doing everything possible to face this dramatic situation,” the Vatican said in a statement, according to CBS.
As the fire raged on and was eventually brought under control, the status and whereabouts of some precious items became known.
Jean-Marc Fournier, a Paris fire service chaplain, managed to evacuate two very important items as the fire started and he realized they might be at risk: the Crown of Thorns and the Blessed Sacrament.
“The police took the crown and I took the holy sacrament [the wafers, or body of Christ],” he said, according to CNN.
As more time passed, it became clear that an entire network of people had helped out to escort other important items safely from peril.
Merci aux @PompiersParis, aux policiers et aux agents municipaux qui ont réalisé ce soir une formidable chaîne humaine pour sauver les œuvres de #NotreDame. La couronne d’épines, la tunique de Saint Louis et plusieurs autres œuvres majeures sont à présent en lieu sûr. pic.twitter.com/cbrGWCbL2N
— Anne Hidalgo (@Anne_Hidalgo) April 15, 2019
“Thanks to the @PompiersParis, the police and the municipal agents, the Crown of Thorns, the Tunic of Saint Louis and several other major works are now in a safe place,” Anne Hidalgo, the mayor of Paris, tweeted.
But when would the fire be extinguished? And what would be left — if anything — when the flames finally died down?
Early footage of the remains have both saddened and encouraged people — yes, the damage is extensive. There are piles of charred rubble, and muddy streams are running through the famous place of worship, but all was not lost.
Video and photos show the altar and cross are still standing, seemingly undamaged by the fire, protected by the stone roof that is still holding together.
The photo is striking: plumes of smoke are still present, but the cross is visible even in the darkness. Some have pointed out that the materials are largely heat-resistant, and while that may be true, others maintain that it’s a miracle that the cross and altar are untouched and still standing — a bright spot during a dark time.
The grand organ, as well, seems to be intact so far, according to BFMTV. It’s a waiting game to see if it will play again or if the smoke and water have done their worst.
The stained-glass rose windows, despite their fragility, have been reported as being in reasonably good shape. Works of art will begin their journey to the Louvre, where they will find safer shelter for the time being.
“I’m telling you all tonight — we will rebuild this cathedral together,” France’s president, Emmanuel Macron, said, according to VT. “This is probably part of the French destiny. And we will do it in the next years. Starting tomorrow, a national donation scheme will be started that will extend beyond our borders.”
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