French law enforcement officials opened an arson investigation on Saturday after the Cathedral of Saint Pierre and Saint Paul in Nantes went up in flames, causing significant damage before fire officials were able to put it out.
The fire “blew out stained glass windows and destroyed the grand organ in the 15th-century building,” France 24 reported. “Dozens of firefighters brought the fire under control after several hours. Smoke was still coming out of the Gothic structure after massive flames earlier engulfed the inside.”
“Prosecutor Pierre Sennes told reporters three fires had been started at the site and authorities were treating the incident as a criminal act,” Reuters added. “He gave no other details.”
“After Notre-Dame, the 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 risks to save this Gothic jewel of the city.”
Nantes Mayor Johanna Rolland said, “It is a part of our history, a part of our heritage. We all have these images in mind, this story in our hearts, but at this stage the situation does not seem to be comparable to that of 1972.”
Numerous videos surfaced on social media that showed the fire inside the church.
*MASSIVE FIRE BREAKS OUT AT THE HISTORIC NANTES CATHEDRAL IN FRANCE pic.twitter.com/9WifdyE6gS
— Investing.com (@Investingcom) July 18, 2020
The cathedral in Nantes burns. pic.twitter.com/c8LXkS6Bhc
— Ian Miles Cheong (@stillgray) July 18, 2020
Arson inquiry launched as French firefighters battle blaze in Nantes cathedral https://t.co/evTCEgsHLb pic.twitter.com/jSOz0hoSyV
— ITV News (@itvnews) July 18, 2020
#Nantes | Courage aux sapeurs-#pompiers du @SDIS44 engagés sur l’#incendie à la cathédrale Saint-Pierre-et-Saint-Paul de #Nantes.
Protéger, secourir et sauver. pic.twitter.com/z8ZaigcI3s
— Pompiers de France (@PompiersFR) July 18, 2020
The French website nantes.tourisme wrote the following brief synopsis about the cathedral:
There is a stanza engraved on the back of the doors that tells us of when the first stones were laid in 1434, and with it one of the longest religious constructions in France was underway, building that wouldn’t be completed until 1893. Repair and restoration work was first undertaken after the 1972 fire and only finished once the cathedral had been returned to its original splendor. Behind the white-stone (and not in the more usual granite) of a double tower front, the nave rises to a full 37.5m – higher than at Notre-Dame in Paris.
Officials noted that the damage that was done to the cathedral was nowhere near as bad as the damage that was sustained by Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris last year when a massive fire broke out.
“The cathedral — a soaring medieval structure that has captured the hearts of believer and nonbeliever alike for 850 years — was ravaged,” The New York Times wrote in a report that documented just how close the cathedral came to collapsing due to a series of mistakes that were made.
The Times reported that the “violent fire” at the cathedral in Nantes was brought under control within a matter of hours, according to Gen. Laurent Ferlay, who is in charge of the firefighters in the area.
“It is not a scenario à la Notre-Dame de Paris,” General Ferlay told reporters. “The roof hasn’t been hit.”
The fire comes as numerous churches in the U.S. have been burned down in recent days, some of which were deemed to be intentional.