Arson suspected in massive blaze at Nantes Cathedral in France

Concrete Saves the Day

Arson suspected in massive blaze at Nantes Cathedral in France

Although intense, this weekend’s fire at Nantes Cathedral was not on the same level as a 1972 blaze at the 15th-century Gothic landmark. The damage also doesn’t compare to that of the 2019 fire at Notre-Dame de Paris. (Nicolas Raymond/Flickr)

The cathedral of Saint-Pierre-et-Saint-Paul de Nantes (the Nantes Cathedral) suffered significant damage over the weekend in a fire that investigators in the French city are deeming as potential arson. A volunteer worker at the 15th-century Gothic edifice, considered one of the better known Roman Catholic cathedrals in France alongside the much older and more emblematic Notre-Dame de Paris, was swiftly detained following the blaze but, as reported by the BBC, he is not considered a suspect and has since been released without charges.

While the catastrophic April 2019 fire at Notre-Dame was at the top-of-mind for many as reports of a roaring and “violent” cathedral blaze in Nantes—a sizable port city along the Loire in western France that served as the historic capital of Brittany—began to circulate in French media, officials have been quick to dismiss any major similarities between the two. The fire that engulfed Nantes Cathedral, for one, was set deliberately in three different locations, per investigators while the Notre-Dame fire was sparked by ongoing construction work at the medieval Paris landmark, although the exact cause is still something of a mystery. Mercifully, this weekend’s blaze at Nantes Cathedral did not result in the same sort of horrific, widespread damage incurred during the Notre-Dame fire.

This isn’t the first time that Nantes Cathedral, which took over four centuries to complete after work first kicked off in 1434, has been damaged by fire. In 1972, a massive blaze tore through the structure’s roof that resulted in significant damage. An extensive, years-long restoration commenced soon thereafter and didn’t fully wrap-up until 2008. A key element of the restoration was the rebuilding of the roof in concrete, a rather prophetic move carried out to spare it from being destroyed again by any future fires. In addition to shooting down any comparisons, damage-wise, to Notre-Dame, fire officials in Nantes have publicly stated that “we are not in the same scenario” as the 1972 fire.

“The fire of 1972 is in our minds, but at this stage the simulation is not comparable,” Nantes Mayor Johanna Rolland told the media.

As reported by the Wall Street Journal, this weekend’s fire at Nantes Cathedral was extinguished after roughly three hours by a team of over 100 firefighters. And while the roof held strong during the blaze, the cathedral’s grand organ, which dates back to 1620, along with a smaller organ and some 15th century stained glass windows were all destroyed.

“After Notre-Dame, the St. Peter and St. Paul Cathedral is in flames. Support to the firemen who are taking all the risks to save the Gothic jewel,” tweeted French President Emmanuel Macron as the tense situation in Nantes unfolded.

As authorities continue to look into the suspicious-seeming origins of the fire while the Nantes diocese assesses the damage, French finance minister Bruno Le Maire announced that the “state is ready to respond financially” when it comes to the costs of needed repairs at Nantes Cathedral.

Just last week, the French government announced that the replacement spire at Notre-Dame Cathedral would be a faithful replica of the one destroyed in the 2019 fire in lieu of a new, modern substitute.