Notre Dame Fire: Cathedral Spire Collapses in Paris

Stacy Meichtry and Sam Schechner, Wall Street Journal, April 15, 2019

Firefighters were scrambling to control a blaze that brought down the soaring spire of Notre Dame Cathedral on Monday and caused part of the legendary Gothic church’s roof to collapse.

A column of fire from the more than 850-year-old landmark sent plumes of smoke over the skyline of the French capital.

Several thousand people gathered at Paris’s city hall, the Hotel de Ville, just across the Seine River from the cathedral, to watch helplessly as the blaze consumed pieces of Notre Dame in Christianity’s Holy Week between Palm Sunday and Easter.

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Notre Dame, with its gargoyles and flying buttresses, is a symbol of Paris celebrated by Roman Catholics and millions of tourists who visit the church every year. Its monumental stone walls and vaulted ceilings have withstood centuries of tumult, including the desecrations of the French Revolution, when much of the religious imagery inside the church was destroyed.

Among the holy relics inside are objects believed to include the crown of thorns worn by Jesus during his passion and a piece of the cross on which he was crucified.

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Construction of the Catholic cathedral, located on the Ile de la Cité in the Seine River, began in the 12th century and continued for centuries. Joan of Arc was beatified there by Pope Pius X in 1909. The cathedral is also known for the legend of the hunchback of Notre Dame, the fictional bell-ringer of the cathedral immortalized by Victor Hugo’s 1831 novel.

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It was unclear what started the fire on Monday. TV images showed the flames rising from a section of the cathedral’s roof surrounded by scaffolding. One police official said the fire’s initial location suggested it stemmed from renovations that were under way at the church.

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The flames engulfing the roof of the cathedral consumed sections of its interior frame. Nicknamed “the forest” for the number of oak trees used to construct its wooden beams, the frame was among the oldest in church architecture.

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As the sun set over the Parisian skyline, the cathedral’s central spire became engulfed, forming a towering column of flames. The charred spire then buckled and fell.

A cry rang out from the crown in front of city hall as the spire fell to the side and disappeared inside the building, {snip}.

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[Editor’s Note: A dozen photographs accompany the original story.]

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