Nantes Cathedral: what do we know about the origin of the fire?

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What is the origin of the fire that hit the Gothic cathedral of Saint-Pierre-et-Saint-Paul in Nantes? Alerted at around 7.45 am by local residents, no less than 104 firefighters quickly intervened in this emblematic place of the city of the Dukes, before managing to circumscribe the blaze two hours later. Significant losses are nevertheless to be deplored: the precious painting “Saint Clair healing the blind” by Hippolyte Flandrin, the monumental organ and its wooden chest dating back to the Ancien Régime, the large stained glass window on the western facade as well as part choir stalls and choir organ. “The only thing I hope is that this fire is not the work of a criminal, otherwise it will bring hatred again», worries Antoine, manager of a cafe overlooking the cathedral square, already victim of a fire (more devastating) in 1972.

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In the morning, the criminal track seemed indeed privileged. An investigation was opened by the Nantes prosecution for “arson”. The public prosecutor, Pierre Sennès, indicated that “Three separate fire starts” (on the first floor at the level of the large organ, to the right and to the left of the nave) had been identified, pointing “A substantial distance” between each other. “It’s not by chance, it’s even a signature”, declared the magistrate, announcing the recourse to a fire expert of the laboratory of technical and scientific police of Paris «to examine the fire starts and the electrical installation ”.

As the day progressed, however, the criminal hypothesis seemed to diminish. Early investigations do not show “Signs of break-in at the exterior”, said the public prosecutor of Nantes. “We are very vigilant. Every evening after closing, we inspect the cathedral to verify that there is no intrusion. Everything was in order last night “, assured Release the rector of the cathedral, father Hubert Champenois, present on the spot.

What if the fire was accidental? According to our information, no fuel was found at this stage of the investigation. On the other hand, the three fire points are all supplied with electricity. “A surge is enough for a spark to be triggered, for the fire to catch and spread over the network”, says a source who intervened inside the building. Completely destroyed by the flames, the painting signed Hippolyte Flandrin, pupil of the famous painter Ingres, was, for example, hung … just above an electrical cabinet (found charred). As for the great organ, it “Was electrified”, specifies another source mobilized on the incident, which also leans for the accidental thesis.

Requested by Release, the Nantes prosecutor Pierre Sennès did not follow up. “The whole problem of cathedral electricity is that it is a puzzle”, slips a diocesan source. At the end of the day on Saturday, the firefighters were still on the job, removing the debris and installing props to secure the structure of the building. The investigation continues.

Chloé Pilorget-Rezzouk special envoy to Nantes

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