Notre Dame Fire: Macron Promises To Rebuild, But Paris Monument Suffers ‘Colossal Damage’


The spire and roof of Notre Dame Cathedral were reduced to ash Monday, as a catastrophic fire spread through a building that has embodied the heart of Paris for more than 800 years.

The fire, which was apparently accidental, left a smoldering stone shell where there had once been a peerless work of architecture, engineering and craftsmanship.

Cathedral spokesman Andre Finot told reporters that the building had sustained “colossal damage” and that the medieval wooden interior – a marvel that has inspired awe and wonder for the millions who have visited over the centuries – had been gutted.

“Nothing will remain from the frame,” he said.

At one point Monday night, fire officials acknowledged that the blaze might continue to rage uncontrollably and that the entire structure could collapse.

But late Monday, after hundreds of firefighters spent hours dousing the building with jets of water, Paris fire commander Jean-Claude Gallet said that the iconic twin bell towers that stand astride the building’s grand entry had been saved.

In an address to the nation just before midnight, President Emmanuel Macron said the worst had been avoided, that the exterior structure had been preserved and that the cathedral would rise again.

“I tell you solemnly tonight: We will rebuild this cathedral,” he vowed.

“Notre Dame of Paris is our history,” Macron continued, emphasizing the structure’s unique place in the national imagination. “The epicenter of our lives. It’s the many books, the paintings, those that belong to all French men and French women, even those who’ve never come.”

The cathedral had been undergoing a badly needed renovation after decades of deterioration due to pollution, acid rain and the ravages of time. Officials said they were considering the blaze an accident relating to the construction. The Paris prosecutor’s office opened an investigation.

There were no deaths, but a firefighter was reportedly badly injured.

The fire began in the early evening, just minutes after the building closed to tourists.

Yellow clouds of smoke billowed into an otherwise perfect blue sky and orange flames assaulted the belfry. At twilight, a gaping hole could be seen where the enormous vaulted roof once had been. Flames continued to lick the night sky as an impromptu chorus in the streets below somberly sang “Ave Maria,” some members falling to their knees.

The heat of the fire could be felt from across the River Seine as firefighters frantically pumped water from cranes and sought to save the priceless works stored and displayed within.

Initial reports in the French press suggested that many of those pieces had already been removed last week during the renovations, and Finot said that the cathedral’s collection of sacred items, kept in the sacristy, were likely unharmed. “Normally there is no risk of things being burned,” he said.

The rest of the city seemed to stand still as the fire raged, with thousands of passersby watching from the streets below. Many were in tears, looking on in stunned silence. Some filmed the scenes on smartphones and broadcast them across the globe.

Worldwide, the destruction triggered an outpouring of emotion, with people posting family photos to social media showcasing visits to a building that was constructed and refined over centuries but burned within hours.

The building, the cornerstone of which was laid in 1163, is the most visited monument in Paris, with more than 12 million people coming each year – nearly double the people who visit the Eiffel Tower. Its intricate stone gargoyles, spires, stained glass and flying buttresses have made it one of the great masterpieces of architecture.

The church is both a literal and figurative center of the city: It anchors the Ile de la Cite, the island in the Seine where the first settlements emerged that eventually became the city of Paris. The common distinctions of “Left Bank” and “Right Bank” are in reference to this island.

Until Monday night, Notre Dame had managed to withstand both the elements and the vicissitudes of history that left their mark elsewhere in the French capital: the French Revolution, the Paris Commune, two world wars and Adolf Hitler’s demolition plans in 1944.

The spire that collapsed on Monday is not an original component of the cathedral. It was added in the 19th century, when tastes veered toward a Gothic revival, by the architect Eugène Viollet-le-Duc. The gargoyles – immortalized in Victor Hugo’s classic novel “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” – were likewise added in the 19th century.

Throughout French cultural history, Notre Dame has served as a powerful symbol of Paris and of France’s cultural heritage. The writer Anatole France once described it as “heavy as a hippopotamus” but “light as a butterfly.” The painter Marc Chagall depicted it in his canvasses, distorted in dreamlike haze.

President Donald Trump tweeted his advice to Paris on Monday: “So horrible to watch the massive fire at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. Perhaps flying water tankers could be used to put it out. Must act quickly!”

French fire services tweeted in apparent reply that “dropping water by airplane on this type of building could result in the collapse of the entire structure.”

Although there was no evidence of a connection, France has seen a number of attacks on Catholic churches in the past year, including arson and vandalism.

Paris’s Church of St. Sulpice was set on fire after midday Mass last month. No one was injured. Police are investigating, but firefighters attributed the blaze to arson.

The possibility that foul play had been the cause of the Notre Dame fire was on the minds of some of those who watched Monday evening as the cathedral burned. The fall of the central spire – toppling amid an inferno – added resonance to the comparison to another tragic blue-sky day nearly 18 years ago.

“I was in New York on 9/11 and this reminds me of that,” said Donna Calhoun, 57, a professor of mathematics from Boise who is on sabbatical at the Sorbonne.

The expressions of solidarity, too, were similar to the ones voiced in September 2001, even if this time there were no deaths and apparently no malicious intent.

“Notre Dame of Paris is Notre Dame of all of Europe,” tweeted European Council President Donald Tusk. “We are all with Paris today.”

(c) 2019, The Washington Post · James McAuley, Griff Witte, Reis Thebaul



  1. “I was in New York on 9/11 and this reminds me of that,” said Donna Calhoun, 57”

    What an idiot. Now we see the instant results of what Ilhan Omar was attempting to do. Minimize the murdering of 3000 innocent humans by Muslim terrorists. Now everyone can express their “feelings” of comparison to 9/11 for the most trivial “happenings”.

  2. The world is in shock at the burning down of the Notre Dame Cathederal in Paris. The מהר”ם מרוטנבורג authored a קינה that we say on Tisha B’av תשעה באב. The 41st Kinah קינה begins “Shaali Serufoh Boeish” שאלי שרופה באש and he composed this קינה after the burning of the Talmud in 1242 in Paris right in front of the Notre Dame. In the קינה he writes ולכן אשרי שישלם לך גמוליך, צורי בלפיד ואש, הלבעבור זה נתנך כי באחריתך תלהט אש בשוליך.

    “Those who yearn for the earth of the Land and are pained and astonished by the burning of your scrolls, they have gone into the darkness where there is no light. They hope for the light of day to shine upon them and upon you. [Inquire also about] the welfare of the men who sigh and weep with broken hearts, always mourning the pain that has beset you.”

    Seems like today it was fulfilled ….I guess the fire that they lit over there almost 800 years ago to burn the 24 wagon loads of Talmud Bavli & Yerushalmi in front of the church, which was witnessed by the Maharam Merothenburg who authored the Kinoh, just flared up again!

    This Kinah was written by the Maharam Miruttenberg, one of the last of the Baalei Tosfos. It describes a tragic event in Jewish history, made even more tragic due to the fact that the entire event was instigated by one of our own, an apostate Jew. In 1240 in Paris an apostate Jew named Nicholas Donin
    recommended to King Louis IX that if he wanted to get rid of the Jews for once and for all, the only way to do that was by destroying their Torah. The King and the Church had all copies of the Talmud confiscated on March 1240 3 and placed in the Place De Greve, a public square in Paris, which is the current
    location of city hall and the mayor’s office. In all there were 24 cartloads of Talmud, thousands of volumes.

    The King invited 4 rabbis to a debate with Donin, the fate of the 24 cartloads hanging in the balance. Transcripts of the debate exist, and even according to the Latin transcript was it by no means a win by Donin. The Queen herself at one point told the accusers that they were trying too hard. Even so the fates of the volumes of Torah were a foregone conclusion, and in 1242 the Gemara’s were burnt.

    The burning of the Talmud took place after an extended debate between Christian clergy and Jewish scholars. Led by two of the great Tosafists, Rabbeinu Yechiel of Paris and Rabbeinu Moshe of Coucy, the Jewish sages engaged in “the Disputation of Paris” against the Christian scholars, led by apostate Nicholas Donin, who had studied under Rabbeinu Yechiel of Paris before converting. The disputation revolved around whether the Talmud commands Jews to despise non-Jews and Christians. The results of the debate were predetermined, and although Donin wasn’t able to prove his position, the Talmud was condemned to burn.

    The Jews were shocked, never imagining that the Church would commit such an act.

    Paris, 9 Tammuz 5002 (1242 CE) Bloodcurdling, hate-filled cries echo through the streets of Paris. “Bring the books!” shouts the frenzied mob. Over twenty wagons, filled with close to 12,000 handwritten manuscripts of the Talmud, are brought to a stake that has been set ablaze in a public square. The proceedings are overseen by the priests, who have front-row seats to view the event. Royal guards lift the seforim from the wagons and cast them into the raging fire.

    The ramifications of this were tremendous. Each one of those volumes were handwritten, this was 200 years before the printing press was invented. There wasn’t a Gemara to be found in all of France, and many of the volumes had the actual handwritten glosses of the Baalei Tofos written in their margins, to be lost forever.

    The Maharam Mirutenberg was a 27 year old student at the time. It is evident in this Kinah that he saw this potentially as the end of Torah as we knew it. He compares the glory of the giving of the Torah to its current state.

    As Rav Soleveitchik explains it, he compares us to a wife whose husband ran away and deserted us, and didn’t even leave over any money – the holy Sefarim – to sustain ourselves.

    He laments “no longer will I hear the voice of your singers” the voice of Torah has been stilled, and there will no longer be any Torah scholars. The Torah is the glue that keeps us going throughout golus, that binds us together and to our Father in Heaven.

    But netzach yisrael lo yishaker – the tenacity and resilience of the Jewish people cannot be over estimated. As the maharam himself predicts at the end of the kinah, Torah will prevail
    Rabeinu Yechiel of Paris the father of the Rosh and one of the debaters, gathered 300 students and taught them Shas from memory, which they recorded.[remarkably, when compared to the Munich manuscript, one of the only Shasim we have from before the burning, they are almost exactly the same]. He taught them the teachings of the Baalei Tosfos. Rav Moshe of
    Coucy, another one of the debaters wrote the Sefer Mitzvos Hagadol, which codified and explained all the mitzvos and is still a primary text today.

    The Maharam Mirutenberg, who right before he died wrote “the sun shines for everyone but G-d and me,” is telling us that Torah is our essence, and when 24 cartloads of Torah were burnt it potentially could spell the end of the Jewish people, total despair and abandonment. The Torah is our lifeforce!


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