PARIS – President Emmanuel Macron has vowed that France will rebuild the fire-ravaged Notre Dame Cathedral within five years, offering words of encouragement and hope to a country divided by politics and devastated by the loss of a centuries-old Parisian landmark.
“There is a great deal to be rebuilt,” Macron said in a televised address to the nation on Tuesday.
“We will make the Cathedral of Notre Dame even more beautiful. We can do this,” he said.
“I share your sorrow and I also share your hope,” Macron said at the close of the speech.
Notre Dame, an 850-year-old structure and a symbol of French identity located on one of two islands in the Seine river in central Paris, went up in flames late Monday in a blaze that raged for nine hours.
It did not take long after the flames were extinguished for France to shift its focus toward reconstruction: Three wealthy French families have already pledged a total of $564 million to the effort.
French billionaire Bernard Arnault and his luxury goods LVMH Group said they would donate $226 million. The same amount was pledged by the Bettencourt Meyers family and luxury and cosmetics group L’Oreal several hours later. The family of luxury goods magnate Francois Henri Pinault had earlier pledged $113 million.
The Ile-de-France region, which contains the French capital, has said it would put forward $11.3 million to rebuild Notre Dame.
It is unclear what the total cost of reconstruction will be.
Prime Minister Edouard Philippe held a ministerial round for consultations on reconstruction, with Culture Minister Franck Riester and Public Action and Accounts Minister Gerald Darmanin in attendance.
Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo said she would hold a donor conference.
Earlier on Tuesday, Gabriel Plus, a spokesman for the city’s fire brigade, said that the fire – which was first reported around 6:45 p.m. Monday – had been completely extinguished after a “bitter battle” to douse the flames.
Firefighters managed to save the building’s main stone structure, but the roof and other parts of the cathedral were destroyed in the blaze.
Fire spokesman Plus said the flames on the roof had reached 3,280 square feet in size before it was contained, and that firefighters were able to maintain the edifice’s structure and rescue the cathedral’s most important artworks and relics.
Church director Patrick Chauvet said one of the most momentous relics was saved: the Crown of Thorns, said to have been worn by Jesus before his crucifixion.
The Paris prosecutor’s office is investigating a count of “involuntary destruction by fire,” saying there is no evidence to indicate that it may have been arson.
French media reported that the fire may have been linked to renovation work on the roof and the spire, which dated back to a 19th-century restoration.
The damage to Notre Dame comes during a time of political upheaval in France. Macron’s centrist government has been vilified by the Yellow Vest protest movement, whose followers have demanded pay rises, tax cuts, better public services, more direct democracy and Macron’s resignation.
Among the world leaders expressing condolences to France was President Donald Trump. He offered words of support to Macron, calling France “the oldest ally of the United States.”
“We stand with France today and offer our assistance in the rehabilitation of this irreplaceable symbol of Western civilization,” Trump said in a White House statement, which ended with “Vive la France!”