This past Saturday morning, many awoke to images of another French cathedral on fire—this time in the heart of Nantes. In the early morning hours of July 18, a fire began in the Saint-Pierre-et-Saint-Paul cathedral. Passers-by saw flames through a window of the cathedral and alerted emergency services a little before 8:00 am. When firefighters arrived, they discovered “a violent fire at the level of the organ located behind the rosette window.”
More than 100 firefighters and 45 emergency vehicles, coming from around 20 emergency centers in the Loire-Atlantique department, were mobilized to the scene. Around 10 am, the fire was “contained,” according to Laurent Ferlay, general controller of the Loire-Atlantique firefighters.
Upon further investigation, it appeared that the fire had ignited in three locations: one fire began near the organ, while the other two started at the other end of the cathedral.
“When we arrive at a place where a fire has taken place, and you see three separate fire outbreaks, it’s a question of common sense, you open an [arson] investigation,” Nantes prosecutor Pierre Sennès said. He clarified that there was no trace of an external break-in.
Volunteer interviewed in police custody; later released
On the afternoon of July 18, a volunteer with the Diocese of Nantes was placed in police custody as part of the investigation into the fire. This man “was responsible for closing the cathedral on Friday evening and investigators wanted to clarify certain elements of this person’s schedule,” Prosecutor Pierre Sennès said.
The volunteer, in his 30s, is a Catholic Rwandan hosted by the diocese along with others. He had sought to renew his visa, which expired in March 2020, and “was in discussion with the Prefecture on this point,” the prosecutor said.
A magistrate underlined that “any interpretation which could implicate this person in the commission of the facts is premature and hasty,” he said. Despite these admonitions, people hungry for an explanation—and someone to blame—took to social media to judge the man guilty of the crime. The Diocese of Nantes was forced to disable comments on its Facebook page, “so as not to fuel hate and false rumors.”
Later on Sunday, July 19, Sennès confirmed that the man had been released “without charge.” Quentin Chabert, the lawyer for the volunteer, told reporters that “there is nothing that directly links my client to the fire.”
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