France pays tribute to the firefighters who saved the Notre Dame Cathedral

Posted at 2:05 AM, Apr 19, 2019
and last updated 2019-04-19 02:05:16-04

France is paying tribute Thursday to the hundreds of firefighters who saved the world-renowned Notre Dame Cathedral from utter collapse.

Nearly 500 firefighters battled a massive fire at the 12th century Catholic cathedral in Paris for several hours Monday night. The vicious flames devoured its oak-ribbed roof and 300-foot spire, but the overall facade of the medieval edifice, including its iconic belfries and rose-stained glass windows, was mostly kept intact. The famed 18-century organ as well as many priceless artwork, artifacts and relics were also spared or rescued.

French President Emmanuel Macron thanked firefighters and security forces during a tribute ceremony at the presidential Elysee Palace on Thursday. He also met privately with some of the men and women gathered there who had helped quell the blaze.

"The country and the entire world were watching us and you were exemplary," Macron said in his speech at the ceremony.

Also on Thursday, Paris City Hall hosted a ceremony in honor of the firefighters that included a Bach violin concert and readings from French writer Victor Hugo's 19th-century literary classic, "The Hunchback of Notre Dame."

Bells at all of the churches and cathedrals across France rang out in unison on Wednesday night in honor of the Notre Dame Cathedral.

The fire erupted at the Gothic church during a mass Monday evening at the start of Holy Week, the busiest and most important period of the liturgical year. Although the flames caused extensive damage, which will take years to repair, no one was killed.

The cause of the blaze is still under investigation. Paris prosecutor Remy Heitz told reporters Tuesday that it was "likely accidental."

During Thursday's ceremonies, crews continued their work to secure key sections of the fire-ravaged structure, which still stands but remains very fragile. The Notre Dame Cathedral was already undergoing a $170 million renovation and was partially encased in scaffolding at the time of the blaze.

France's president said he wants to see the 850-year-old landmark rebuilt in time for the 2024 Summer Olympics in Paris. Nearly $1 billion in donations from around the world has already been pledged to aid the restoration process.

"During our history, we have built cities, ports, churches. Many have burned or been destroyed by wars, revolutions or the faults of men. Each time, each time, we rebuilt them," Macron said in a televised address Tuesday. "So yes, we will rebuild Notre Dame Cathedral even more beautiful, and I want it to be completed within five years."