Church volunteer confesses to arson of cathedral in French city of Nantes

The Saint-Pierre-et-Saint-Paul cathedral in the city of Nantes in western France.
The Saint-Pierre-et-Saint-Paul cathedral in the city of Nantes in western France. | Screenshot: Twitter

A church volunteer has confessed to setting fire to a medieval cathedral in the French city of Nantes earlier this month, badly damaging the Gothic worship space.

The unnamed 39-year-old Rwandan man had previously been detained and questioned by authorities and then was again detained for further questioning when he confessed.

“He confessed to the allegations against him which, as the prosecutor indicated, are causing destruction and damage by fire,” said his lawyer, Quentin Chabert, as reported by the Associated Press. “He regrets the facts. That is certain. He is in a sort of repentance.”

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The volunteer had been tasked with locking up the cathedral and had set three fires, two to two organs and one to an electrical box. The motive remains unknown, according to AP.

Officially known as the Saint-Pierre-et-Saint-Paul Cathedral, the Nantes sanctuary was the subject of an arson attack on July 18 that damaged an organ and stained glass windows.

It took around 100 firefighters about three hours to contain the fire, which did not spread to the roof in large part because a fire in 1972 led the church to replace it with concrete.

The Nantes Cathedral traces its history back to the 15th century and is considered a major national treasure, second only to the famed Notre Dame Cathedral of Paris.

“After Notre-Dame, Saint-Pierre-et-Saint-Paul cathedral, in the heart of Nantes, is in flames,” French President Emmanuel Macron wrote on Twitter at the time. “Support for our firefighters who take all the risks to save this Gothic jewel of the city of the Dukes."

In April of last year, the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris suffered a major accidental fire during restoration work that caused severe damage to the structure.

Last December, the rector of the Paris cathedral expressed concern that despite the heavy outpouring of donations aimed at repairing the church, it might unsalvageable.

“Today it is not out of danger,” Monsignor Patrick Chauvet told AP at the time. “It will be out of danger when we take out the remaining scaffolding.”

“Today we can say that there is maybe a 50% chance that it will be saved. There is also 50% chance of scaffolding falling onto the three vaults, so as you can see the building is still very fragile.”   

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