Apparent Arson Devastates 600-Year-Old Nantes Cathedral
Arson is suspected in the devastation of the historic Nantes Cathedral last Friday, according to authorities.
The blaze, which savaged much of the worship place’s interior, began early in the morning then spread across much of the French Gothic cathedral before firefighters managed to contain it.
— Laurent K (@zeldamydog) July 18, 2020
Suspicions were first raised when the blaze was confirmed to have started in three separate locations in the church.
“When we arrive at a place where a fire has taken place, when you see three separate fire outbreaks, it’s a question of common sense, you open an investigation,” said Prosecutor Pierre Sennes, who is in charge of the inquiry around the potential arson. The investigation is ongoing, with no official conclusions yet.
Drone footage from inside the cathedral captures the extent of damage to the Gothic site.
See the fire department’s drone photographs of Nantes Cathedral’s interior and fire-fighting operation https://t.co/SPJ49EVUQA
— Jerome Chenu (@JrmChenu) July 20, 2020
Nantes Cathedral began construction in 1436 and took nearly five centuries to complete. It’s known as the “Gothic Jewel of Nantes,” with statuary and 500-year-old organs gracing its chapels and aisles. The organ was completely destroyed by the blaze, as was much of the cathedral’s historic statuary. The altar and its artwork appears to have survived.
“It is a part of our history, a part of our heritage,” Mayor Joanna Roland told reporters in response to the potential arson. Numerous national figures, including President Macron, have visited the site since.
The blaze comes in the midst of an ongoing string of attacks against religious sites across the United States. As reported on by The Federalist last week, numerous churches have been burned and statues defaced at sites from Florida to California. These include at least one instance of terrorism, and the destruction of the historic San Gabriel Mission in California. The events are almost solely concentrated in Catholic houses of worship.
What connection if any these events have to the burning of Nantes Cathedral is currently unknown. It is possible poor protection rather than hate is behind the tragedy. Investigations into the fire which devastated the iconic Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris last year have suspected human error as the trigger, though there was never a complete answer. For Nantes, a firm cause is unlikely to come until the investigation concludes.
If you have any reports of attacks on religious sites that are not being reported on, please reach out to [email protected]
Jonah Gottschalk is an intern at the Federalist. He studies Modern History and International Relations at the University of St Andrews.