Lawyer for a volunteer at A gothic cathedral in the city of Nantes, in western France said he confessed to setting fire to the building which severely damaged his 17th-century organ and blew up stained glass windows.
The 39-year-old defendant, an asylum seeker from Rwanda who has lived in France for several years, was arrested earlier this month after laboratory tests determined arson was the likely cause of the fire, the local prosecutor’s office said.
“My client cooperated,” lawyer Quentin Chabert told the newspaper Presse-Océan on Sunday, without specifying the reasons for the attempt to burn down the cathedral of Saint-Pierre and Saint-Paul.
“He bitterly regrets his actions… My client is consumed with remorse,” said Chabert.
Prosecutors opened an arson investigation after the fire on the morning of July 18 after finding it had erupted in three different places in the church, which the volunteer had locked up the night before.
He was arraigned for questioning the next day, but later released without charge, the rector of the cathedral saying: “I trust him as I trust all in attendance.”
But Nantes prosecutor Pierre Sennes said in a statement he had been charged with “destruction and damage by fire” and faces up to 10 years in prison and 150,000 euros ($ 175,000) in fines. .
“He admitted during his first appearance for questioning before the examining magistrate to have lit three fires in the cathedral: at the main organ, at the small organ and at the electrical panel,” Sennes told Presse-Océan on Sunday.
Famous organ destroyed
The blaze came 15 months after the devastating fire at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, which raised questions about the security risks of other historic churches across France.
While firefighters managed to contain the Nantes blaze after just two hours and save the main structure of the cathedral, the famous organ, which dates back to 1621 and survived the French Revolution and WWII bombings, was destroyed.
Priceless artifacts and paintings have also been lost, including a work by 19th-century artist Hippolyte Flandrin and stained-glass windows containing remains of 16th-century glass.
Work on the cathedral began in 1434 and continued over the following centuries until 1891.
It had already been damaged by a more serious fire in 1972, when authorities added concrete reinforcement while re-roofing over the next 13 years.
The French government has said it will ensure the restoration of the cathedral, although few parts of the main organ are likely to be saved, said Philippe Charron, head of the regional heritage agency DRAC.
“It will take several weeks to secure the site… and several months of inspections which will be carried out stone by stone,” he said.
The reconstruction will take several years, he said.