Two French billionaires have pledged a combined $337 million to help rebuild the iconic Notre Dame cathedral after it was ravaged by a fire that gutted the roof and brought down the spire.
France’s richest man, business magnate Bernard Arnault, promised 200 million euros ($225 million) to rebuild the eight-century-old Gothic cathedral on the morning of April 16. A day before, billionaire François-Henri Pinault, who is married to actress Salma Hayek, pledged 100 million euros ($112 million).
More than 400 firefighters were needed to tame the fire that gutted the iconic cathedral on April 15.
The day after the incident, on April 16, the morning light in Paris revealed that the main bell towers and outer walls had been saved by firefighters who had fought into the early hours to bring the blaze under control and rescue the religious relics and artworks. Evacuated artwork that survived the blaze will be transferred to the Louvre Museum, a French culture ministry representative said.
‘Rebuild it Together’
“The worst has been avoided,” French President Emmanuel Macron told reporters shortly before midnight, when the fire had mostly been tamed.
France will launch a campaign to rebuild the cathedral, Macron said.
“We will rebuild it together. It will undoubtedly be part of French destiny and our project for the years to come,” a visibly moved Macron said.
The call for funding was quickly answered by the two French billionaires, and others who offered help and donations for the restoration of the historic building.
“In the wake of this national tragedy, the Arnault family and the LVMH Group pledge their support for Notre Dame,” said a statement by Arnault’s LVMH Group. “They will donate a total of 200 million euros to the fund for reconstruction of this architectural work, which is an integral part of the history of France.”
“In the wake of this national tragedy, the Arnault family and the LVMH Group pledge their support for #NotreDame. They will donate a total of 200 million euros to the fund for reconstruction of this architectural work, which is an integral part of the history of France.” pic.twitter.com/utvJT8xJht
— LVMH (@LVMH) April 16, 2019
The flames ripped through the building in the early evening of April 15 and climbed the spire—which collapsed to the gasps and cries of tearful onlookers—before destroying the roof.
Tourists who might normally have been gazing up in wonder at the cathedral’s stunning ceilings and works of art joined distraught Parisians who had gathered behind police cordons to watch on the Ile de la Cité, an island in the River Seine that marks the very center of Paris.
Thousands of onlookers lined bridges over the Seine and along its embankments, held at a distance by a police cordon. Some sang liturgical music in harmonies late into the night as they stood vigil, while others recited prayers.
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Notre Dame is the most famous of the Gothic cathedrals of the Middle Ages, known for its many gargoyles and its iconic flying buttresses.
The fire quickly drew the attention of world leaders.
“So horrible to watch the massive fire at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris,” wrote U.S. President Donald Trump in a tweet, later adding, “God bless the people of France.”
Reuters contributed to this report.