Dome of historic church in Haiti goes up in flames, devastating UNESCO World Heritage site

Royal Chapel of Our Lady of Immaculate Conception in Milot, Haiti
The Royal Chapel in Milot, Haiti, recognized by UNESCO. |

A historic church in Haiti that is part of a UNESCO World Heritage site has been significantly damaged following a fire that engulfed and destroyed its wooden dome.

The Royal Chapel of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception Church in Milot, Haiti, located just outside the city of Cap-Haïtien, is among three structures within the National Historic Park in the Caribbean nation's northern region. An early Monday morning blaze consumed the entirety of the dome of the church and by the time firefighters arrived it was too late as it had been completely burned, according to the Miami Herald.

“This church is the pride of Milot. It’s the pride of the North. It’s the pride of Haiti,” said parish priest, Father Alain Prophète, in an interview with the Miami Herald. “I am in shock.”

Locals in the town attempted to put out the blaze on their own but their efforts were short-lived.

“They fought, and fought; some were even injured,” Prophète said. “In the moment we are speaking, we do not have a church. ... Only the walls are standing.”

Patrick Durandis, director of the National Heritage Preservation Institute, told the South Florida Caribbean News Tuesday that he was told by someone in site that the fire started at around 3 a.m. in an annex building.

“We were waiting for the firefighters who were there but who unfortunately could not intervene for various reasons. It is difficult for us to have clear ideas to intervene suitably on this building, especially since we are caught elsewhere by the epidemic of coronavirus,” Durandis said.

The church roof had previously collapsed in 1842 when an earthquake hit the region. It was rebuilt in 1934 after the U.S. occupation of Haiti ended. Other repairs on the dome were reportedly done two years ago to fix leaks.

The parish priest said the cause of the fire is now being investigated.

The disaster coincides with the bicentennial of King Henri Christophe, the self-proclaimed ruler of Haiti who led the divided nation after Jean-Jacques Dessaline Christophe, a leader of the Haitian Revolution and the first ruler of an independent Haiti, died. It was he who ordered the 1804 Haiti massacre of the remaining white population of native French people, having declared the nation free from French rule on Jan. 1, 1804. The destructive fire also coincides with the 350th anniversary of the creation of the city of Cap-Haïtien.

The now-roofless chapel is located at the entrance of the historic park of the Laferrière citadel, which since 1982 has been classified as a world heritage site by UNESCO.

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