Precious artifacts, the grand organ and stained glass windows were damaged Saturday after fires started in three places inside a 15th-century Nantes Cathedral in western France, according to French authorities, who have opened an investigation into arson.
“After Notre-Dame, Saint-Pierre-et-Saint-Paul cathedral, in the heart of Nantes, is in flames,” French President Emmanuel Macron wrote on Twitter. “Support for our firefighters who take all the risks to save this Gothic jewel of the city of the Dukes."
More than 100 firefighters took three hours to contain the fire Saturday morning in the city of Nantes. It didn’t spread further because the roof of the cathedral was rebuilt with concrete in 1972 after it was destroyed in a fire, according to Laurent Ferlay, the director of the regional fire department.
Nantes Prosecutor Pierre Sennès said the fires, believed to be arson, started in three places in the cathedral.
A witness, Jean-Yves Burban, who runs a newsagent facing the cathedral, told Reuters he heard a bang at around 7:30 a.m. local time. “I am shaken up because I’ve been here for eight years and I see the cathedral every morning and evening. It’s our cathedral and I’ve got tears in my eyes.”
“Today, all Nantais and Nantaises are in this emotion, this sadness,” Nantes Mayor Johanna Rolland was quoted as saying. “It’s a place for all Nantais, a part of our history.”
A Rwandan refugee, a volunteer who was in charge of locking up the day before the fire broke out, was detained, according to BBC. His detention was to clear up inconsistencies in the man's schedule.
“We must remain careful as to the interpretation of this police custody. It is a normal procedure,” Sennès was quoted as saying.
The construction of the Roman Catholic Gothic cathedral began in 1434 and took 457 years to finish in 1891.
Last April, the Notre Dame Cathedral, a major church that has long been an enduring iconic symbol of Paris, was heavily damaged due to a severe fire.
The world watched in horror as flames consumed the roof and spire of Notre Dame, both of which collapsed. The church was being renovated at the time.
Construction of the Notre Dame Cathedral began in 1163 and took nearly 200 years to complete. The Gothic church is one of the first to make use of flying buttresses, which slant to form a separate pier, usually forming an arch with the wall it supports.