French billionaires pledge $339 million to help rebuild Notre Dame

French billionaires pledge $339 million to help rebuild Notre Dame

French billionaires pledge $339 million to help rebuild Notre Dame

The Paris prosecutor's office said it was treating the fire as an accident, ruling out arson and possible terror-related motives, at least for now.

It said the Holy See was praying for firefighters - at least one was reportedly seriously injured - and expressed its "closeness to French Catholics and the population of Paris". The only major work damaged inside was the cathedral's high altar, installed in 1989 under Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger.

The fire, reported to be extinguished early Tuesday, was battled by some 500 firefighters. "Our job today is to monitor the structure and its movements".

The blaze toppled the spire, smashed the stained glass windows, and destroyed the roof, as well as some priceless artefacts inside. Authorities deployed some 400 firefighters, pumped water from the Seine and flew drones to survey the damage. Also saved was the tunic of St. Louis, a long, shirt-like garment from the 13th century, said Culture Minister Franck Riester.

French President Emmanuel Macron pledged Tuesday to rebuild Paris' beloved Notre Dame Cathedral "even more beautifully" after a raging fire destroyed its spire and its roof but spared most of the structure, including the church's twin medieval bell towers. "All donations received will be paid in full to the restoration site", it said on Twitter, "for Notre Dame to be reborn from her ashes".

"We are all in shock, believers and non-believers, Christians and non-Christians, because a jewel of the history of France and Christianity as much as of the heritage of Europe is now in flames", said Joel Mergui, president of the Consistoire Central Israélite de France, the body responsible for the religious affairs of the French Jewish community. The city of Paris pledged 50 million euros.

Arnault, its CEO, is the third richest person in the world, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.

"We are used to thinking about them as eternal simply because they have been there for centuries, or a thousand years, but the reality is they are very fragile", Violini said.

Notre Dame was undergoing a $6.8 million renovation project, with some sections under scaffolding, while bronze statues were removed last week for work.

On Thursday, the public got a first ground-level look at the statues, representing the 12 apostles and four evangelists, when a huge crane lowered them onto a truck.

American tourist Susan Hargrove said she'd been left breathless by the scale of devastation.

"I think the challenge will be whether or not people who give the money agree with those who are doing the rebuilding about how the cathedral should be rebuilt", said Lisa Bitel, a professor of religion and history at the University of Southern California.

Famed primatologist Jane Goodall recalled in a posted excerpt from her book "Reason for Hope" how a visit to Notre Dame during the 1970s "marked an epiphany in my thinking about my place on Planet Earth and the meaning of my life".

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