French billionaires pledge €300m to help rebuild iconic Cathedral

Published On: April 16, 2019 01:40 PM NPT By: AFP/RSS

PARIS, April 16: Fundraising has already begun in the wake of the fire that engulfed Paris’s Notre Dame, as the French president Emmanuel Macron invited the world to work together to rebuild the cathedral.

The first images after dawn in Paris showed the extent of the damage wrought to the 800-year-old structure, with the roof and central spire completely gone but much of the central scaffolding still in place.

The city’s fire chief said late on Monday that the blaze had been brought under control and the stone facade of the building was “saved”, thanks to the efforts of 500 firefighters - one of whom was injured. No one was killed in the fire.

Macron said France would be looking “beyond our borders” for help to restore the masterpiece of Gothic architecture.

In an emotional speech at the scene of the fire on Monday night, he said: “I am solemnly telling you tonight: this cathedral will be rebuilt by all of us together.”

Describing Notre Dame as “our history” and “the epicentre of our lives”, he added: “It's probably part of France's destiny and it will be our project for the years to come.

“That's what the French expect, because it's what our history deserves,” he said. He called the fire a “terrible tragedy”.

Some high-profile pledges have already been made. French billionaires Francois-Henri Pinault and his father, Francois, said they would be giving more than €100m to help with the “complete reconstruction” of what was lost.

Francois-Henri is chairman and CEO of the Kering group which owns the Gucci and Yves Saint Laurent fashion brands, president of the company that owns the Christie’s auction house, and is married to the actress Salma Hayek.

French billionaire businessman Bernard Arnault's family and his LVMH luxury goods group will donate €200 million to help repair Paris' Notre-Dame cathedral, said a statement issued on behalf of Arnault.

“The Arnault family and the LVMH group would like to show their solidarity ata this time of national tragedy, and are joining up to help rebuild this extraordinary cathedral, which is a symbol of France, of its heritage and of French unity,” said the statement.

Japan's government expressed sympathy with France early on Tuesday and said it would consider sending support to the French government. “Its damage is a loss to the world and our hearts ache,” said Yoshihide Suga, the chief cabinet secretary.

While the French government is yet to give details of the international fundraising scheme promised by Macron, an appeal has been launched by the charity Fondation du Patrimoine, a private organisation working to protect French “cultural and natural” heritage.

The charity issued a “call for donations to help rebuild Our Lady of Paris, Notre-Dame cathedral” after what it called the “brutal” fire. Speaking to the AFP, the foundation said no fees would be charged on donations at its website.

The US-based French Heritage Society said it too was establishing a restoration fund. A page has been set up on its website to receive donations, saying: “The hearts of all of us… go out to the city of Paris and all of France in the wake of the terrible fire.”

A number of unofficial fundraisers have sprung up on websites such as gofundme and JustGiving, and while no individual appeal has yet taken off, collectively they have raised thousands of euro.

Meanwhile, French fire officials said it would take several days to completely extinguish all remaining pockets of fire, dampen down hotspots and secure the world-famous edifice.

Attention is beginning to turn to what may have caused the landmark, part of which was being restored, to fall victim to such a disaster.

The Paris prosecutors' office said police will carry out an investigation into "involuntary destruction caused by fire", indicating authorities are treating the blaze as a tragic accident for now.

Arson, including possible terror-related motives, was earlier ruled out.

The first harrowing images from within the fire-ravaged cathedral began to emerge as firefighters brought the blaze under control.

A smouldering pile of what appeared to be the charred remains of the roof and spire lay smoking in front of the altar, while a cross that had escaped destruction glowed from within the gloom.

Gilded candlesticks, artworks and furnishings were among the treasures seen being rushed from the cathedral by a "human chain" before being bundled into trucks by police officers.

Some of the cathedral's most precious objects, including a relic purported to be the crown of thorns worn by Jesus Christ on the cross, were whisked away to a secure facility.

Franck Riester, the French culture minister, tweeted that "Major parts of the treasure £NotreDame are now safe at the Paris City Hall".

Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo added: "The Crown of thorns, the tunic of Saint Louis and several other major works are now in a safe place."

Despite fire racing through Notre Dame's roof, firefighters were able to prevent the blaze consuming the cathedral's main structure, including its two bell towers.

There were hopes that the three famous rose windows, which date back to the 13th century, avoided catastrophic damage, while the bells that have rung out at key moments in France's history were thought to be safe.

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