NANTES, France (Reuters) – A fire in the 15th-century cathedral in the western city of Nantes blew up stained glass windows and destroyed the large organ on Saturday, and officials said they suspected arson.
Prosecutor Pierre Sennes told reporters that three fires had been started at the site and that authorities considered the incident a criminal act. He gave no further details.
Officials said an investigation had been opened.
The blaze started early in the morning, engulfing the interior in massive flames, and dozens of firefighters brought it down after several hours. Smoke was still coming out of the Gothic structure later Saturday morning.
The blaze comes just over a year after a massive fire in Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, which destroyed its roof and main spire.
“After Notre-Dame, Saint-Pierre and Saint-Paul cathedral is in flames. Support for firefighters who take all the risks to save the Gothic gem, “tweeted President Emmanuel Macron from Brussels, where he was attending an EU summit.
Local fire chief Laurent Ferlay told reporters that 104 firefighters were still on site to make sure the fire was completely under control.
The fire started behind the large organ, which was completely destroyed, he said. Stained glass windows in the front of the cathedral have been blown out.
However, the damage was not as severe as initially feared.
“We are not in a Notre-Dame de Paris scenario. The roof was not touched, ”Ferlay said.
Prime Minister Jean Castex and the Ministers of Culture and the Interior were due to visit the scene later in the day. journalists.
“I want to know what happened even though it’s very early,” Castex told reporters.
Jean-Yves Burban, who runs a newsagent across from the cathedral, said he opened his business and heard a knock around 7:30 a.m. He came out to see huge flames coming from the building.
“I am upset because I have been here for eight years and see the cathedral every morning and evening,” he told Reuters. “This is our cathedral and I have tears in my eyes. ”
It was not the first time that a fire had damaged Nantes Cathedral, located about 340 km southwest of Paris.
It was partly destroyed during World War II in 1944 after Allied bombing. In 1972, a fire completely ravaged its roof. It was finally rebuilt 13 years later with a concrete structure replacing the old wooden roof.
“The fire of 1972 is in our minds, but at this stage, the simulation is not comparable,” Nantes mayor Johanna Rolland told reporters.
In 2015, a fire that appears to have been caused by renovations destroyed most of the roof of another church in Nantes, the Saint-Donatien Basilica.
(Additional reporting and writing by John Irish; Editing by Frances Kerry)