A film about a fire in the Paris cathedral

Neither sprinkler systems nor firewalls stopped the spread of the flames – they simply did not exist. The fire quickly got out of hand, devouring centuries-old oak beams that were in fact considered to be flame retardant, and turned into a great fire that largely destroyed the Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris on April 15, 2019.

Outside, tourists were already filming and photographing the thick plumes of smoke pouring from the roof of Notre-Dame, while Holy Week Mass was underway inside. The fire protection officer had alerted the guard earlier after the alarm sound, but found no fire in the sacristy roof structure. Nothing was on fire there either – but in the roof truss above the nave. The fire officer was on the first day on the job and could not correctly interpret the emergency message. The mass was read; Precious half an hour passed, nothing happened and until the discovery of the fire.

The cause of the fire has not yet been officially established

Terrifying images of the great fire of Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris on April 15, 2019, went around the world. The massive structure would have almost collapsed had it not been for the heroic efforts of French firefighters. French director Jean-Jacques Annaud turned it into an exciting movie that premiered a few months ago, recently hit theaters and is now also available in German on DVD and Blu-Ray.

Jean-Jacques Annaud – known from the films “The Name of the Rose” and “Years in Tibet” – rebuilt parts of the church (“Of course I did not want to have fun” by burning the cathedral “, Annaud admitted in an interview Radio France). He recreated in the studio the core of the nave of Notre-Dame Cathedral with identical columns and even a chessboard on the floor and chairs, all recreated by the same manufacturer that produced the real chairs. Then he dropped the burning material on the floor, and eleven cameras filmed it simultaneously from different perspectives. Annaud combined it with real footage shot during the fire on April 15, 2019.

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Before that, he had done some very thorough research and produced some very surprising results. Annaud clearly refrains from explaining the cause of the burning hell. He just fastens random events together: a worker who casually throws an unquenched cigarette butt into a corner quits his job at 6:00 PM; the pigeon at the same time discovers a cable on the roof of the building; simultaneous engagement and alleged threats against Notre-Dame by jihadists. Smoking is strictly forbidden; the police also know exactly who smoked. She caught cigarettes and analyzed the DNA of dozens of people.

The actual cause of the fire has not yet been officially established. However, he showed that the “forest”, as the 900-year-old oak beams in the roof structure were called, had been sprayed with antifungal gel the year before the fire. This is apparent from the papers of a French chemist at the University of Shanghai. But this antifungal gel, Xilix Gel Fongi +, made the ancient forests highly flammable. Annaud spoke to neighbors in the very narrow streets near the cathedral who remembered the smell of the spray that had been applied to all the wooden parts.

The fire department did a superhuman job

Additionally, this spray carried a warning: “Never use water in the event of a fire.” Water on this product will increase the flames. On the other hand, the firefighters Annaud spoke to were uninformed and had no idea. Annaud sums it up: “There were so many mistakes that anything that could go wrong went wrong!”

Only the fire department was almost superhuman. Not only did she have a lot of trouble getting into the burning cathedral through the large traffic jams in Paris, but also had to struggle with insufficient water pressure and pierced hoses. First of all, firefighters had to climb narrow spiral stairs; but they were so narrow that they had to climb over each other to get through.

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CEO Laurent Prades, who had the key to the display case containing one of the most sacred relics of Christianity – the crown of thorns – was at Versailles that evening and took the key with him. Louis IX purchased the relic in 1238 for £ 135,000 from Emperor Baldwin II of Constantinople, who pledged the crown of Venice – leaving France indebted for 35 years. Today that sum would amount to more than EUR 2 trillion, said Annaud.

But the joke of the story is that there was only a replica of the relic in the display case. The real crown was in the vault at Notre-Dame. But the CEO, who was rushing from Versailles to the great fire in central Paris and who also missed the train’s return, was only able to open the safe with a code. First, as in a Hollywood movie, he was sent away by police checks; In addition, he could not remember the code due to stress and had to call another code holder first. All this, while glowing pieces of wood fell from above, the nave was littered with burned beams and the vault was already pierced.

The legendary organ at Notre-Dame has been largely spared

More drama is almost impossible; Annaud does this brilliantly, showing surprisingly young firefighters and an odd number of “firefighters” even though only one percent of French firefighters are female. While the fire chiefs did not want to risk the firefighters’ lives, volunteers did not want to watch the national treasure die in flames. Annaud shows how the responsible chief of the fire department is apparently asking the Macron head of state to take responsibility so that the operation can take place.

Or so he was told; it also uses real, up-to-date footage. But it doesn’t use the same cuts and narratives as it does on French TV. Macron felt as though he had said yes. But Annaud in an interview with the Telegraph: “He never did.” He just put his hand on the boss’s shoulder and said no. His silence was taken as approval. The volunteers then placed the water pipes high in the burning roof structure – a very dangerous thing. But by a miracle they managed to put out the fire.

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The cause of the fire, which broke out in three places, is still not clear. In France, churches are burned every year, about 1,000 anti-Christian crimes are counted. Annaud is not in it. But fire works like a miracle: a cultural monument can be saved. For two years, the cathedral was secured and cleaned. Reconstruction works have started. Notre-Dame is due to reopen in 2024.

The fate of one of the greatest cultural treasures in Europe has affected many people all over the world. The fire opened up donation portfolios around the world and enough money was raised for rebuilding and restoration. In France, unlike in Germany, the churches are not blessed so abundantly with state funds. It is more than a burning building. “It was much more than a burning monument,” says Annaud. “Here we are dealing with something sacred … It is not only a symbol of faith, but also of Western civilization … It goes beyond Europe.”

It’s good that fate spared one of the most legendary masterpieces of the late Middle Ages. Because these legendary organs at Notre-Dame have been largely spared. It has hardly changed since its inception in the 17th century. It was only covered with a thick layer of dust. The dust contains lead, so experts can work a maximum of five hours with respiratory protection. You must disassemble, sanitize, restore, install and tune each of the 8,000 pipes. Only the big wooden whistles remained. They are too large and too delicate to remove.

For Oliver Latra, one of the three titular organists at Notre-Dame in Paris, it is almost a miracle that only a few pipes have some fire water. Otherwise, nothing on the organs was damaged by fire and heat. In April 2024 it should read again – five years after Hell.


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