La Cathédrale Notre Dame de Paris Catches Fire on April 15th, 2019


La Cathédrale Notre Dame de Paris went up in flames, causing the spire to catch fire and fall.

Jessica Polito, Jacob Chaimovitch

On the afternoon of April 15th in Paris, France, the famous Notre-Dame Cathedral caught fire for an unknown reason, according to officials and firefighters. It is possible that it caught fire during the renovations that were happening in the church, but no one is sure of anything. The blaze occurred around 3:30 am GMT +2 (Greenwich Mean Time plus two hours) on Tuesday and first responders battled to put the fire out for over 12 hours. One firefighter and two police officers were reported slightly injured from the fire but should recover quickly.

The Cathedral is one of the world’s oldest churches that are still around and in use today. Its official name is Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris, which roughly translates to ‘Cathedral of Our Lady from Paris’. It was built around the year 1163 starting with the presence of King Louis VII and Pope Alexander III. When construction was complete in 1345, it was immediately used for religious purposes and quickly became one of the highest churches in the country, and eventually, all of Europe. With ten bells and two towers that stand next to each other on either side of the entrance, it is one of three major landmarks in the city of Paris alone, with the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre being the other two.

As one of the most well known Cathedrals in the world, La Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris has countless paintings, statues, pieces of architecture, and other historically important items. One item of extreme religious value is the crown of thorns relic. This relic is believed by Christians to be the very same crown that Jesus wore during his crucifixion. With Easter so close to the time of the fire, many were concerned about its safety. Though kept in the Cathedral, the crown of thorns was protected from the harm of the fire. This crown was brought to France by Saint Louis, who went on his second crusade to retrieve this crown; it’s believed to be be 1600 years old. The crown was not the only relic that was saved from destruction; other important pieces of history include the stained glass windows. The rose windows on the northern side of the Cathedral were used in the european middle ages by people who couldn’t read or write. Those stained glass windows told the stories of the bible so that everyone could understand. The craftsmanship of the windows is very fragile work, and SWHS history teacher, Ms. Battaglio, was “really surprised the windows weren’t destroyed.” In addition to the windows, the cross in the church as well as other pieces of artwork that were already removed for the current renovation were not harmed by the fire. Even the flying buttresses, which are important aspects of gothic architecture, were saved.

The damage to the Cathedral worried many who were concerned about loss of history. Luckily, much of what was destroyed was part of the 19th century renovations, and not original pieces of the building. The fire completely destroyed the renovated roof, and took down the spire. Because the roof was wood, the building materials were immensely flammable. Putting out the fire was difficult as the main goal during the response was to save as much of the Cathedral as possible. Thankfully, the spire isn’t as historically devastating as other parts of the building because the original spire was torn down during the French Revolution. Though historically significant parts of the Cathedral were preserved, many were still horrified by the destruction. In drone footage published by ABC News, the destruction is shown from all angles of the building.

As the news spread of the fire, people from all over the world were horrified and terribly upset. The Cathedral was one of the first symbols of France as a country. While many people today think of the Eiffel Tower as the iconic symbol of France, the Notre Dame Cathedral was the main symbol for centuries. The French were absolutely distraught by the news of the fire because it’s an icon of their country and of their cultural history. Ms. Battaglio passionately noted that “when a building is representative of an image of a thousand years and the european middle ages, it would be unbearable to the history, both the cultural and religious history of europe, as well as architecture history, for it to be destroyed.” That sentiment is shared by countless others, and was proven when companies and individuals alike started pledging to donate money to restore the damage done by the fire. Though the French government technically owns the church, the church itself is responsible for the upkeep of the building. Billionaires of companies such as Dior, Louis Vuitton,  L’Oreal, and Apple are just a few of the many groups pledging to donate millions of euros towards the restoration and rebuilding of the Cathedral. One French student from the SWHS exchange, Jeanne Rabaud, noted that “people say that all this money given to Notre Dame is indecent because there are already too many people in the world starving to death… they think all this money could be used for other things than the rebuilding of the Notre Dame.” The future of the Notre Dame has not been decided, but with support from the public, many believe it will be only a matter of time before it’s rebuilt.