As Paris firefighters announced they had finally extinguished the vast blaze that destroyed the lead-covered wooden roof of Notre-Dame cathedral, government and church authorities said more of the monument’s architectural, artistic and religious treasures had been saved from the flames than they previously dared hope.
The stone structures of the building, including the two bell-towers straddling the main entrance, are largely intact. Laurent Nuñez, junior interior minister, said it was a close thing, and the more than 400 firefighters at the scene saved the towers with only a quarter or half an hour to spare.
But the vaulted stone ceiling was severely holed in three places, including where the great wood and metal spire plunged in flames through the centre of the roof about an hour after the fire was detected. As for the works of art inside the building, the “majority were not damaged”, Mr Nuñez said.
Precious Roman Catholic relics were rescued from Notre-Dame during the fire and taken to the city hall for safekeeping. They include the crown of thorns supposedly worn by Jesus as he was crucified and which was brought to France from Byzantium by King Louis IX, later Saint Louis. The crown is now encased in a glass tube and decorated with gold.
Organists around the world have long coveted the chance to play Notre-Dame’s great organ, for which church officials said there was a two-and-a-half year waiting list before the fire. With five keyboards and almost 8,000 pipes, the great organ was the largest of the cathedral’s three such instruments. It escaped total destruction but was likely to have been damaged by debris, dust and water, Notre-Dame organist Philippe Lefèvre told AFP.
Small windows high in the structure could be seen shattered by the fire, but the three great medieval rose windows on the west, north and south sides apparently did not suffer catastrophic damage, said Franck Riester, France’s culture minister. The three represent Mary the Virgin, the baby Jesus, and Christ in his majesty, and the two largest are nearly 13 metres across.
Mr Riester said a number of large paintings in the body of the cathedral that were too large to be removed during the fire would be taken away on Friday morning once the building had been surveyed and made safe. They include vast canvases in honour of the Virgin Mary offered in the 17th century by the goldsmiths’ guild. They had not been burnt but were damaged by smoke and water, Mr Riester said.
A statue of St Denis, the patron Saint of Paris, ‘Preaching the Faith’ by the Baroque French sculptor Nicolas Coustou. The statue was in the north transept inside the cathedral.
The tunic of St Louis is said to have belonged to Louis IX, king of France from 1226 until 1270 when he died while on crusade. Louis was canonised in 1297 and his tunic was revered as a relic and kept in the treasury of Notre-Dame.
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