THE chaplain of Paris Fire Brigade is being hailed a hero after taking part in the recovery of the Crown of Thorns at Notre Dame Cathedral.
Speaking to reporters at the cathedral, Paris’ 15th district mayor Philippe Goujon said Father Jean-Marc Fournier (above) insisted on being allowed to enter the edifice with fire fighters and played a role in the relic’s rescue.
Father Fournier’s bravery had been noted already after the November 2016 Bataclan attack, when he tended to the injured and prayed over the dead.
According to an interview he gave to Christian Family magazine after that attack, Father Fournier was based in Germany and in the western Sarthe region, before joining the Paris Fire Brigade.
He also served in the Diocese of the French Armed Forces and was based for a time in Afghanistan.
‘Father Fournier is an absolute hero,’ a member of the emergency services said.
‘He showed no fear at all as he made straight for the relics inside the cathedral and made sure they were saved. He deals with life and death every day, and shows no fear.’
The cathedral’s ‘most precious’ treasures have been saved after the catastrophic fire.
Firefighters fully extinguished the blaze, which tore through the French landmark yesterday evening, as the nation woke up to the devastation of its cultural and historic ‘epicentre’.
Just under 400 firefighters worked for more than 12 hours through the night, battling to stop the complete destruction of the treasured facade after flames torched the roof, sending its spire crashing to the ground.
Two police officers and one firefighter were injured during the blaze, which saw teams battle to save the structure of the 850-year-old Gothic masterpiece and successfully recover some of the ‘most precious’ artefacts it housed.
Investigators believe the fire was caused by accident, possibly as a result of restoration work taking place.
The tragedy has prompted an outpouring of support internationally, with the Queen saying she was ‘deeply saddened’ and world leaders vowing to help France rebuild.
Millions of euros in donations have also been pledged.
French culture minister Franck Riester said some of the most valuable treasures were stored overnight in the Paris town hall and would be moved to the Louvre museum ‘as soon as possible’.
He said major paintings are not likely to be removed until Friday morning, adding: ‘They have not been damaged but there could be some damage from the smoke so we are going to take them safely and place them in the Louvre where they will be dehumidified and they will be protected, conserved and then restored.’
The fire, which broke out as the last crowds of tourists ended visits at around 6pm BST (7pm local time), was finally declared to be ‘fully extinguished’ this morning.
Fifty people are working on a ‘long’ and ‘complex’ investigation into the cause, Paris prosecutor Remy Heitz told reporters.
Investigators will interview workers from five companies hired to work on renovations to the cathedral roof.
Speaking in front of the cathedral, junior interior minister Laurent Nunez said: ‘The task overnight was to bring the fire under control so it doesn’t re-start.
‘The task is — now the risk of fire has been put aside — about the building, how the structure will resist.’
Gabriel Plus, a spokesman for Paris firefighters, said emergency services were currently ‘surveying the movement of the structures and extinguishing smouldering residues’.
In a message to President Emmanuel Macron, the Queen said: ‘I extend my sincere admiration to the emergency services who have risked their lives to try to save this important national monument.’
Pope Francis said he was praying for French Catholics and the Parisian population ‘under the shock of the terrible fire’.
Scores of Parisians gathered on the banks of the Seine as the sun rose this morning to survey the damage to their beloved landmark.
Ashes from the cathedral’s roof and spire blew across the banks of the river, along with blossom from Notre Dame’s gardens.
Daniel Etieve, 70, said: ‘It’s a very sad picture. For over 800 years this cathedral has been passed from generation to generation.
‘Now I question what state we will pass it on to the generations after us.
A 55-year-old art historian, who gave his name as Fabrice, said it was ‘hard to believe that this is happening in Paris — part of ourselves has been destroyed,’ he said.
‘I always go for a walk in this area every day and come to see Notre Dame. It’s like coming to visit an elderly parent.’
Hundreds of millions of euros have been pledged to rebuild the national monument, while Mr Macron said a national subscription would be launched when he visited the scene last night.
French tycoon Bernard Arnault and his luxury goods group LVMH have pledged 200 million euro (£173million) towards the reconstruction of Notre Dame, following a reported 100 million euro (£86million) donation from another French billionaire, Francois Pinault.
And the UK ambassador to France, Ed Llewellyn, said the country stands ready to help with efforts to restore the building.
Meanwhile, European Council president Donald Tusk called on the EU’s member countries to help, saying the site in Paris is a symbol of what binds Europe together.
Mr Tusk told representatives that the blaze reminds Europeans of ‘how much we can lose’.