Notre Dame fire: Macron, billionaire Arnault vow to rebuild Paris cathedral

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“We’ll rebuild this cathedral all together,” French President Emmanuel Macron pledges to rebuild Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris razed by fire on Monday.

France’s richest man has pledged €200m (£170m) towards the restoration of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, doubling the donation of Salma Hayek’s husband.

Multi-billionaire Bernard Arnault, head of the LVMH luxury goods group, instantly became the biggest benefactor of an appeal launched by President Emmanuel Macron.

On Monday – the day of the blaze – French tycoon Francois-Henri Pinault, who is married to Hollywood actress Salma Hayek, pledged 100 million euros (£86.2 million) towards the rebuilding of the Cathedral.

But, in a statement, the LVMH group said their donation would be double that.

Deputy Interior Minister Laurent Nunez, also present at the scene on Monday evening, said that for the first time ‘the fire had decreased in intensity’ while still urging ‘extreme caution’.

The Vatican on Monday expressed its ‘incredulity’ and ‘sadness’, expressing ‘our closeness with French Catholics and with the Parisian population.’

The cause of the blaze was not immediately confirmed. The cathedral had been undergoing intense restoration work which the fire service said could be linked to the blaze.

French prosecutors said it was being treated as an ‘involuntary’ fire, indicating that foul play was ruled out for now.

Notre Dame is a symbol of human accomplishment, and more than that, of social accomplishment. It’s not the work of any one person, but of generations upon generations of labour.

Work began on Notre Dame in 1180. It took 200 years to finish. And in the time since the cathedral was largely completed in 1260, it has survived war and weather and changing fashions.

It survived the loss of its spire once before, in 1786, after the spire’s supporting structure was so weakened by centuries of weathering that restorers removed it and replaced it. It survived riots from the Huguenots. It survived the French Revolution. It survived Napoleon. It survived World War II.

And so if Notre Dame is irrevocably damaged, it might be a good time to turn to one of the greatest celebrations of what the cathedral represents, which appears in Victor Hugo’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame. This description appears at the opening of Book Three of the novel, just after we meet Quasimodo the hunchback and Esmeralda the dancing girl, and it’s an evocation of what makes Notre Dame great:

Great edifices, like great mountains, are the work of centuries. Art often undergoes a transformation while they are pending, pendent opera interrupta; they proceed quietly in accordance with the transformed art. The new art takes the monument where it finds it, incrusts itself there, assimilates it to itself, develops it according to its fancy, and finishes it if it can. The thing is accomplished without trouble, without effort, without reaction,— following a natural and tranquil law. It is a graft which shoots up, a sap which circulates, a vegetation which starts forth anew. Certainly there is matter here for many large volumes, and often the universal history of humanity in the successive engrafting of many arts at many levels, upon the same monument. The man, the artist, the individual, is effaced in these great masses, which lack the name of their author; human intelligence is there summed up and totalized. Time is the architect, the nation is the builder. […]

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