Notre Dame’s three medieval stained-glass windows all survived last night’s devastating fire, the Archbishop of Paris has said, as detectives probe the renovation work which may have led to the blaze.
The first daylight pictures inside the wreckage of the Paris landmark today showed the roof destroyed, the 850-year-old church exposed to the elements and the floor covered in charred debris.
However the three ‘irreplaceable’ Rose Windows, which were last night feared to have melted or exploded, are all still believed to be intact.
Attention has now turned to what may have caused Notre Dame, part of which was being restored in a €150million refurbishment, to fall victim to such a disaster.
Detectives investigating the catastrophic blaze are today interviewing specialist restorers who were carrying out works on the cathedral spire when the inferno broke out.
French police are understood to have launched a criminal inquiry after a ‘stray flame’ caused fire to engulf the landmark last night, with heroic firefighters battling for eight hours to bring the blaze under control.
The Paris prosecutor’s office is probing ‘involuntary destruction caused by fire’, indicating authorities are treating the blaze as a tragic accident and not arson or terrorism.
‘Nothing suggests that it was a voluntary act,’ Remy Heitz told reporters outside the Gothic cathedral, adding that the workers employed at the site were being questioned over Monday’s blaze.
The focus of prosecutors is currently on contractors Le Bras Freres, a firm based in Jarny, north-eastern France, which had been working from scaffolding erected as part of the restoration project when the blaze broke out.
Some of its 200 specialist employees were working at the site where the fire is thought to have originated, the cathedral’s 300ft-tall wooden and lead spire, which collapsed in front of crowds of horrified Parisians at 8pm.
A source close to the inquiry said that many of the restorers had been interviewed overnight, with prosecutors focusing on the equipment used at the 850-year-old cathedral, where light and power sources were limited.
In such circumstances, hordes of cables and wires would have to be attached to dozens of generators, which would then be hoisted high up on to medieval building.
‘The fear is that a small fire began in the rood where they were working,’ the source added.
‘The irony is that the restorers had just begun working on the spire which collapsed along with much of the roof.’
Le Bras Freres is one of the most respected companies of its kind in France, and last year finished a widespread restoration programme of Reims Cathedral in the east of the country.
The firm had won the £5million contract to restore the Notre Dame spire, which was designed by the architect Eugene Viollet-le-Duc and erected in 1859.
They were due to be on site for up to four years along with Europe Scaffolding, another company which had just put 250 tons of scaffolding around Notre Dame, along with a lift that could move up and down the 300ft spire.
On Tuesday morning, Julien Le Bras, the chief executive of the Bras Brothers, said he had no initial comment to make in regards to the inquiry.
The blaze, which broke out as the last crowds of tourists ended visits at around 7pm, was finally declared to be ‘fully extinguished’ at about 9.45am this morning.
As the fire raged, brave rescue teams raced to recover what treasures they could from the Gothic masterpiece, which housed priceless artefacts and relics of huge religious and international significance.
Among them was the reputed Crown of Thorns, supposedly worn by Jesus during his crucifixion, which was carried to safety by a human chain of emergency service workers.
Today the Archbishop of Paris told BFM-TV that the three beautiful rose windows on the north, west and south sides of the church had all survived intact.
Fears had grown for the ‘really irreplaceable’ stained-glass windows, dating back to the 13th century, amid the heat of the fire last night.
The status of other relics, including a purported piece of the Cross on which Jesus was crucified, remained unclear today.
French priest Jean-Marc Fournier led the efforts to save the Crown of Thorns.
Etienne Loraillere, an editor for France’s KTO Catholic television network, said Father Fournier ‘went with the firefighters into Notre Dame Cathedral to save the Crown of Thorns and the Blessed Sacrament’.
This was confirmed by an emergency services source who said: ‘Father Fournier is an absolute hero.
‘He showed no fear at all as he made straight for the relics inside the Cathedral, and made sure they were saved. He deals with life and death every day, and shows no fear.’
More than 400 firemen were needed to tame the inferno that consumed the roof and collapsed the spire of the eight-centuries-old cathedral. They worked through the night to bring the fire under control some 14 hours after it began.
One firefighter was injured; no one else was reported hurt in the blaze which began after the building was closed to the public for the evening.
Shortly after the the blaze broke out, French fashion mogul Francois-Henri Pinault, the husband of Mexican-American actress Salma Hayek, pledged 100million euros (£86 million) towards the restoration effort.
Hours later, French billionaire Bernard Arnault announced that his family and his LVMH luxury goods group would donate 200million euros to help with repairs.
French President Emmanuel Macron has vowed to rebuild the cathedral, whatever the cost.
He said in a speech outside the church: ‘We will appeal to the greatest talents and we will rebuild Notre-Dame because that’s what the French are waiting for, because that’s what our history deserves, because it’s our deepest destiny.’
Pope Francis said Tuesday he hoped everyone would pull together to rebuild the devastated Notre-Dame cathedral in Paris following a massive fire.
‘I hope the Notre-Dame cathedral may once again become, thanks to reconstruction work and the mobilization of all, a jewel in the heart of the city,’ Francis said in a statement issued by the Vatican.
Leaders from around the world offered their condolences to France. Among them was Queen Elizabeth II, who said: ‘Prince Philip and I have been deeply saddened to see the images of the fire which has engulfed Notre-Dame Cathedral.
‘I extend my sincere admiration to the emergency services who have risked their lives to try to save this important national monument.
‘My thoughts and prayers are with those who worship at the Cathedral and all of France at this difficult time.’
Notre Dame had previously the site of a terror scare in 2016 when a car carrying seven gas cylinders was found near the cathedral.
Three women were arrested over the alleged terror plot, although they were thought to have been targeting a Paris railway station rather than the cathedral itself.
Police have made clear today that they believe Monday night’s fire was an accident.
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SOURCE: Daily Mail, Peter Allen and Alexander Robertson