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Man questioned as part of arson investigation into French cathedral fire

The fire brought back memories of the devastating blaze in Notre Dame cathedral in Paris last year.

Image: PA Images

FRENCH INVESTIGATORS HAVE questioned a man who worked as a volunteer at the gothic cathedral of Nantes which was badly damaged by fire hours after he locked it up for the night.

Prosecutors launched an arson investigation after the Saturday morning blaze which they said appeared to have broken out in three different parts of the Cathedral of St Peter and St Paul in Nantes, western France.

Sunday’s questioning sought to “clarify elements of the schedule” of the man on Friday evening, Nantes prosecutor Pierre Sennes said. 

He was being held as part of “normal procedure” and it would be “premature” to suggest the man was a suspect in the case, he added.

The blaze, which came just 15 months after a devastating fire tore through the Notre-Dame cathedral in Paris, destroyed the Nantes congregation’s famed organ, which dated from 1621 and had survived the French revolution and World War II bombardment.

Also lost were priceless artefacts and paintings, including a work by 19th century artist Hippolyte Flandrin and stained glass windows which contained remnants of 16th century glass.

About 100 firefighters managed to save the main structure of the cathedral, which was constructed over more than 450 years starting in 1434.

Sennes said experts from a police unit specialised in fire investigations were at the scene today, awaiting authorisation from firefighters to examine the platform on which the grand organ had stood.

‘Unimaginable loss’ 

Sennes said yesterday a preliminary examination had found no signs of forced entry at the cathedral.

Investigators did find three separate fire outbreaks, at “a substantial distance” from one another and at opposite ends of the church, he said, which led to the opening of an arson probe.

One of the fires started near the organ which was on the first level of the cathedral and accessible by 66 steps.

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Catholic official Father Francois Renaud, who oversees the cathedral, said the organ console had “completely disappeared”, and described it as “an unimaginable loss”.

“The console of the choir organ has gone up in smoke along with the adjoining wooden choir stalls. Original stained glass windows behind the great organ have all shattered,” he said.

The cathedral’s rector, Hubert Champenois, said yesterday that “everything was in order last night,” and “a very close inspection was made before it closed, like every other evening.” 

The volunteer was being questioned about “the conditions of the closing of the cathedral” on Friday evening, Sennes said. 

 © – AFP 2020

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