Organ completely destroyed after fire in French cathedral, treated as criminal act
French President Macron called the cathedral a “Gothic gem.”
July 18, 2020, 12:13 PM
5 min read
Paris — A fire broke out at the cathedral Saint-Pierre-et-Saint-Paul in the western French city of Nantes on Saturday morning and was contained by firefighters in a couple of hours.
Over 100 firefighters and 45 trucks were mobilized to put out the fire which broke out at and destroyed a 400-year-old grand organ in the 15th-century building.
The alert was given by passersby around 7:45 a.m. (1:45 a.m. ET), General Laurent Ferlay, departmental director of the firefighters, told reporters outside of the cathedral. The first firefighters on site smashed the doors to enter the building in flames before ascending “via existing communications inside the building but also from outside in the air to avoid further propagation,” said Ferlay. They focused on the flames around the organ, while attempting to limit its spread, and on preserving works of art.
At 10 a.m. local time on Saturday morning, firefighters announced that the blaze was under control. An investigation’s been opened by the Nantes prosecutor, according to the mayor of Nantes. In a tweet, French President Macron lamented that “after Notre-Dame, Saint-Pierre-et-Saint-Paul cathedral, in the heart of Nantes, is in flames” and showed his “support for our firefighters who are taking all the risks to save this Gothic gem”.
The cathedral had also caught on fire in 1972. General Ferlay stated that “we are not in a Notre Dame scenario, or even a 1972 fire” since “the roof was rebuilt in concrete” after the blaze of 1972 had torn through the wooden roof.
Prime Minister Jean Castex will visit the site in the afternoon in the company of Roselyne Bachelot, minister of Culture, and Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin.
In a live interview on local channel BFMTV, the mayor of Nantes, Johanna Rolland, announced that “unfortunately the big organ is completely destroyed and one of the concerns that firefighters have is the platform that underpins the organ, whether it will hold.” Rolland also mentioned damage to the wooden part of the small organ and the side eastern facade, even if “it is too early to assess the damage yet,” she said. Rolland, who went inside the cathedral, said “the damage is real but it is localized.”
Nantes prosecutor Pierre Sennes has opened a criminal investigation, telling reporters in front of the cathedral he was treating the fire as a criminal act. “Three places where the fire started, it leads us to favor of course, the criminal hypothesis. It’s not random,” said Sennes.
Nantes Mayor Rolland told BFM that “what is certain is, there are three places for the start of the fire, I saw them myself,” but would not confirm criminal intent, saying “there are several hypotheses” about the fire’s origin.