A Paris chaplain who cared for victims of the city’s 2015 Bataclan terror attack has again emerged as a hero, after he ran into the blazing Notre Dame cathedral to help authorities rescue priceless relics.
Jean-Marc Fournier, a Paris fire brigade chaplain, headed into the cathedral with firefighters and police officers to save the threatened artefacts, some purportedly dating back to Jesus Christ’s final moments.
Father Fournier, who had keys and codes for the cathedral, helped officials get into rooms where the treasures were held as sections of the historic church’s roof smoked around them.
The group managed to save several priceless relics, including the revered Crown of Thorns.
— Etienne Loraillère ن (@Eloraillere) April 15, 2019
The chaplain – who has also reportedly served as a spiritual guide to French forces in Afghanistan – was also called a hero following the 2015 Paris attacks. He led prayers and helped victims after terrorists killed 130 people across the city.
“The police took the Crown and I took the holy sacrament [the wafers, or body of Christ],” Father Fournier said of his emergency dash into Notre Dame.
Among those to thank Father Fournier for his efforts was Etienne Loraillère, the director of the French Catholic television network KTO. He tweeted a picture of the priest and commended him for his bravery.
Many of the treasures rescued as Notre Dame burned have been given temporary homes in Paris’s City Hall and The Louvre.
Les œuvres sauvées de l’incendie de #NotreDame par les pompiers, les policiers et les agents municipaux, mises à l’abri cette nuit à l’Hôtel de Ville, sont à présent prises en charge par les services de l’Etat. Un très grand merci à toutes les équipes qui se sont mobilisées. pic.twitter.com/AZId6ad0NV
— Anne Hidalgo (@Anne_Hidalgo) April 16, 2019
The magic 20 minutes that saved Notre Dame
France’s deputy interior minister Laurent Nunez said the cathedral’s structure was now safe, following intense work within a crucial 20-minute window by 400 firefighters.
Mr Nunez said authorities had identified “weaknesses” in the centuries-old building but overall it was “holding up OK”, despite its steeple having collapsed in the flames.
The blaze was tackled from all sides, except overhead, contrary to Donald Trump’s Twitter proposal for local fire authorities.
So horrible to watch the massive fire at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. Perhaps flying water tankers could be used to put it out. Must act quickly!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 15, 2019
Securite Civile, a French government civil defence agency, rebuked the US President’s claims by responding, in English, that waterbombing could lead to the structure’s collapse.
Hundreds of firemen of the Paris Fire Brigade are doing everything they can to bring the terrible #NotreDame fire under control. All means are being used, except for water-bombing aircrafts which, if used, could lead to the collapse of the entire structure of the cathedral.
— Sécurité Civile Fr (@SecCivileFrance) April 15, 2019
What was saved
Some of the cathedral’s most cherished relics were recovered during the desperate rescue operation.
Most notably, the Crown of Thorns, said to have been placed on the head of Jesus Christ in the moments before his crucifixion, was among the artefacts whisked away to a “secret location.”
The cathedral’s mammoth organ, which dates back to the 1730s and has an estimated 8000 pipes, remains intact. Authorities are yet to establish whether it sustained heat or water damage.
The fate of a 24-centimetre piece of wood and nine-centimetre-long nail purportedly from Jesus Christ’s crucifixion cross remains unknown.
Experts have grimmer fears for the integrity of the cathedral roof. They have said there are no longer trees in France big enough to replicate the lattice structure that was constructed in the 12th and 13th centuries.
However, 16 three-metre-tall copper statues representing the 12 apostles and four evangelists, which were normally housed on top of Notre Dame, survived.
They had been removed from the cathedral’s monumental spire last week for the first time in over a century, for cleaning.