(Vatican News and Aleteia) Few words could sum up the emotions of Catholics and non-Catholics alike as they watched fire sweeping through the rooftops of Notre Dame in Paris, along the banks of the River Seine on Monday evening.
Pope Francis expressed his sorrow to the Archbishop of Paris, and the people of France, for the fire that devastated Paris’ Notre Dame Cathedral, as the Vatican offered technical assistance for the historic sanctuary’s reconstruction.
“Following the fire that ravaged a large part of Notre Dame Cathedral, I join you in your sorrow, as well as that of the faithful of your diocese, the inhabitants of Paris, and all the French people.” Pope Francis sent those words of solidarity to Archbishop Michel Aupetit of Paris on Tuesday.
He assured all the people of France of his spiritual closeness and prayers during Holy Week, as the Church recalls Jesus’ passion, death, and resurrection.
He called Notre Dame “an architectural jewel of a collective memory,” and said it was “the location of many great events and a testimony to the faith and prayer of the city’s Catholics.”
Pope Francis expressed his appreciation for the courage of the firemen who intervened to contain the blaze and his hope that it returns to its former glory.
He said the 860-year-old sanctuary represents “the architectural and spiritual heritage of Paris, of France, and of all humanity.”
The spiritual leader of the Coptic Orthodox Church, Pope Tawadros II of Alexandria, said the fire was “a huge loss for all humanity,” calling the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris “one of the most important monuments in the world.”
The Cathedral began to be built in 1163 AD and took 182 years to finish. It is the most visited temple in Europe, receiving about 13 million people from around the world each year (an annual average of more than 30,000 people per day). In days of greater affluence, it can receive up to 50,000 pilgrims and visitors. Admission is free.
What happened? – Fire broke out in Paris’ 860-year-old Cathedral on Monday evening, tearing through its timbered roofing and causing its storied spire to collapse.
The blaze, which raged for 12 hours, started in the area around the spire, where workmen had been carrying out extensive renovations to the roof and the spire’s wooden frame.
The Paris prosecutor’s office has opened an investigation into the cause of the fire. Police sources told Reuters that they were working under the assumption that the fire was accidental.
What was saved? – Only the Gothic masterpiece’s outer walls, façade, and twin bell towers remain standing. The “good news” within this tragedy is that both the relics and majority of the works of art from the cathedral are safe, including the famous statues of the 12 apostles on the facade, and the gargoyles, since they had been removed from the cathedral last week as part of a process of restoration that was ongoing.
Its famous pipe organ, dating back to the 1730s, also survived intact.
Firefighters reportedly saved many of the treasures housed inside.
Notre Dame’s Rector, Msgr. Patrick Chauvet, said the Crown of Thorns – which tradition holds was worn by Jesus during his Passion – and the tunic believed to have been worn by St Louis, the 13th century king of France, were rescued from the flames. St Louis was the last European monarch to lead the Crusade to recover Jerusalem, and he managed to save various religious treasures from the Holy Land in the 13th century.
Father Fournier, chaplain of the firemen of Paris, braved the flames to save the crown of thorns and the Blessed Sacrament, risking his own life to save these iconic relics and this priceless Treasure of our religion.
Several people and institutions have offered donations and services to raise from the ashes what the flames wanted to erase. The celestial light that Notre Dame radiated for centuries, will once again illuminate France and the world.