The fire that destroyed a 17th-century organ and shattered a stained-glass window in Nantes cathedral started in three different places, French authorities said.
A 39-year-old man tasked with locking the cathedral Friday night a few hours before the fire was questioned by police on Sunday, but the prosecutor said it was too early to “draw conclusions”.
“Any interpretation involving this person in what happened is premature and hasty,” said Nantes prosecutor Pierre Sennès. “It is normal procedure for him to be questioned.”
A hundred firefighters tackled the fire at Saint-Pierre and Saint-Paul cathedral reported early Saturday morning. Early reports suggest that it began in three distinct areas of the Gothic structure, one near the “large” organ, which was destroyed, a second near a smaller organ to the left of the altar, and a third at right of the altar. At least one of the fires appears to have started near an electrical fuse panel.
There was no evidence of a break-in at any of the six doors to the cathedral and detectives are trying to establish whether the fire was accidental or incendiary. Most of the structure of the cathedral, built between the 15th and 19th centuries has been saved.
Jean-Charles Nowak, clerk at the cathedral, told Le Figaro that he did not believe that the arrested man, a volunteer from Rwanda who was also hosted by the diocese, had anything to do with the fire . The man, who locked up the cathedral on Friday night, also regularly helped the cathedral clergy serve during mass.
“He was discussing the renewal of his visa with the prefecture. I don’t believe for a second that he could have set the cathedral on fire. It was a place he loved, ”Novak said.
Rector of the cathedral, Father Hubert Campenois declared on Saturday that everything “was in order” on Friday evening and that “a very careful inspection was made before it closed, like every evening”.
Nantes Cathedral was damaged by Allied bombing during World War II. In January 1972, a large fire broke out on the roof, which was allegedly started by a worker’s torch. It took 13 years to repair.
Police firefighters arrived in Nantes on Saturday evening but were waiting for the firefighters to declare the platform on which the body was safe so that they could examine it.
Martin Morillon, president of the association of the cathedral of Nantes, qualified the loss of the organ of “tragedy” which left everyone “immensely sad”. In addition to the organ, a painting, Saint-Clair healing the blind by Jean-Hippolyte Flandrin, a 19th century French painter, was also destroyed.
“Disbelief is the predominant feeling today because it is our heritage which has disappeared, which has gone up in smoke,” Morillon told LCI television.
Laurent Ferlay, fire chief of Loire-Atlantique, said that the roof of the cathedral had not been touched. “We are not talking about a scenario of Notre-Dame de Paris or the fire of 1972,” he told the newspaper Ouest France.