Features News

Massive fire destroys much of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris

One of the great monuments of the Middle Ages – Notre Dame de Paris – has suffered severe damages from a fire that has left the cathedral in ruins.

The extent of the damage is not yet known, but the interior of the Parisian cathedral looks to be completely destroyed, while the outer stone walls are still standing. The fire even spread to one of the two main towers in the building’s facade, but through the efforts of firefighters the flames in that area were extinguished.


The first fire alarm sounded in the cathedral at 6:50 pm local time, just minutes after it was closed to visitors. It seems that everyone was able to be evacuated safely from the cathedral, as there are no reports of any fatalities.

Officials from Notre-Dame have said that the main relics held within the cathedral were rescued, including a tunic worn by King Louis IX and a Crown of Thorns, both dating to the thirteenth-century. The Deputy Mayor of Paris, Christophe Girard, said in an interview that city officials, along with the Ministry of Culture and the Louvre museum all worked together to bring trucks to take away the artefacts. Other reports indicate that the stained glass windows in the cathedral have been destroyed.

He added that between 1000 and 2000 of the city’s residents were forced to evacuate their homes near the cathedral, and that while civic buildings were being opened for them to stay, local hotels have been taking in these people for the night.


The Prosecutor’s office in Paris has launched an investigation into the cause of the fire, but the preliminary analysis suggests that the blaze was started accidentally. They have ruled out arson as a cause.

Notre-Dame Cathedral is currently undergoing significant restoration work, part of a 30-year, 150 million euro project to repair the building. Earlier this month 16 copper statues were airlifted and moved for renovation from the cathedral’s spire. Deputy Mayor Girard commented that he believed the fire started in the area of the spire, which was erected in 1844.

French President Emmanuel Macron has thanked the firefighters for protecting the cathedral and making sure that the worst situation was avoided. In a late night speech he said that there would be an immediate national and international effort to raise funds to restore the cathedral. “Let’s rebuild Notre-Dame because that is what the French people expect, that it what history deserves, because that is our destiny,” Macron said.


UNESCO has already pledged to support the reconstruction efforts, and La Fondation du patrimoine, a private heritage foundation that works to preserve historic structures in France, has already launched a fundraising drive. Agence France-Presse is reporting that François-Henri Pinault, the chairman and CEO of Kering, has pledged 100 million euros.

Photo by Milliped / Wikimedia Commons

Among the medieval studies community there is shock and sadness at the news of destruction. Suzanne Conklin Akbari, Director of the University of Toronto’s Centre for Medieval Studies, says:

The shock of the Notre Dame fire comes partly from personal love and affection for this space, especially for the generations of medievalists who have studied it. They both appreciate the building intellectually for its historical significance and also, in many cases, care for it personally: they might have lit a candle there, or taken a picture of a loved one on its steps. After the destruction and neglect of Notre Dame in the wake of the French Revolution, its windows, woodwork, bells, and statues were reconstructed during the later nineteenth century, at a time when medievalism – the imaginative engagement with the Middle Ages – was on the rise. It’s therefore important to recognize that Notre Dame has been rebuilt before and, judging by the responses we see today, it will surely be rebuilt again.


Richard Utz, the Chair and Professor in the School of Literature, Media, and Communication at Georgia Tech University, added his thoughts about the tragic fire:

The visceral responses to the conflagration of Notre-Dame of Paris are commensurate with what the cathedral represents: it is a time machine that offers us, via its artistic features and religious rites one of the few ‘direct’ admission tickets to the premodern past. No fire can ultimately destroy it. It will rise from its ashes because we need it.

See also:

Rebuilding Notre Dame – from The New Republic

Fire was the scourge of medieval cathedrals. But they rebuilt from the ashes.  – from The Washington Post

Top Image: Photo by LeLaisserPasserA38 / Wikimedia Commons


Sign up for our weekly email newsletter!