NANTES (ChurchMilitant.com) - Police are treating the inferno at Nantes cathedral as arson after discovering fires were deliberately lit at three different points "spaced apart from each other" in the Gothic building, prosecutor Pierre Sennes said.
Over a hundred firefighters rushed to save the 15th-century St. Peter and St. Paul Cathedral at 7:44 a.m. on Saturday, as the blaze tore through the edifice incinerating the 17th-century Girardet pipe organ and shattering the original 16th-century stained-glass windows.
Investigators said that arsonists lit the main fire 30 meters from the pipe organ and two fires on either side of the central nave that rises to 37.5 meters — higher than the nave of Paris' Notre-Dame Cathedral.
"The great organ has been completely wiped out and the console of the choir organ and the adjoining wooden stalls have disappeared in the smoke," lamented Fr. François Renaud, the priest overseeing the cathedral during an interregnum.
"Behind the great organ, there are original stained-glass windows which have all been shattered. The fire was impressive. The loss is inestimable," Renaud said.
Organist Denis Joubert rescued the great organ from destruction during the French Revolution. The organ also survived the fire of 1972.
Paintings of French artists Flandrin, Van den Berghe, Mauzaisse and Delaunay were also destroyed, with the masterpiece of Hyppolite Landrain, "Saint Claire restoring sight to a blind man," reduced to ashes.
Regional fire chief Laurent Ferlay reported that the blaze had been contained by afternoon and was "not a Notre-Dame scenario."
"The damage is concentrated on the organ, which appears to be completely destroyed. The loft on which it is situated is very unstable and risks collapsing," Laurent Ferlay told reporters.
Newsagent Jean-Yves Burban said he heard a bang at about 7:30 a.m. and saw flames when he went out to see what was happening.
"I am shaken up because I've been here eight years and I see the cathedral every morning and evening. It's our cathedral and I've got tears in my eyes," he said.
The cathedral survived aerial bombings in 1944 and a fire in the roof in 1972. Masses at the cathedral resumed only in May 1985, after 13 years of restoration work.
In 2015, a huge fire destroyed part of the 19th-century Basilica of St. Donatien and St. Rogatien in Nantes.
"Christianity is under attack and we're constantly being lied to about the cause of these fires," tweeted Raheem Kassam, ex-Muslim and chief editor of National Pulse.
"Burning churches have become far too common in Europe. These are not accidents," echoed Israeli Youtuber Hananya Naptali.
According to a Gatestone Institute report, an average of three churches in France are targeted every day by arsonists and vandals, as anti-Christian hostility sweeps across Europe.
"The perpetrators of anti-Christian attacks — which include acts of arson, defecation, desecration, looting, mockery, profanation, Satanism, theft, urination and vandalism — are rarely caught," the report observed.
"When they are, police and media often censor information about their identities and ethnic backgrounds," it continued. "Many suspects are said to have mental disorders; as a result, many anti-Christian attacks are not categorized as hate crimes."
The report noted that "in France and Germany, the spike in anti-Christian attacks dovetails with the recent mass immigration from the Muslim world."
However, the "lack of official statistics on perpetrators and motives makes it impossible to know precisely how many attacks can be attributed to Muslim anti-Christianism or the jihadist cause."
"Seeking to destroy or damage Christian buildings is a way of 'wiping the slate clean' of the past," parliamentarian Annie Genevard told Le Figaro in an April 2019 interview.
French political analyst Jérôme Fourquet's book French Archipelago: Birth of a Multiple and Divided Nation traces the de-Christianization of France within the context of mass migration from the Islamic world.
While less than 5% of French people regularly attend Mass on Sundays, Islam is now the fastest-growing religion in France, with over 6 million Muslims constituting 8.8% of the almost-entirely secular French population.
Nantes was the location of a key battle between republican and royalist forces in the Wars of the Vendée during France's Reign of Terror. The republicans used the Nantes Cathedral as a military outpost.
Nantes was also the site of mass drownings of royalist prisoners (noyades), including Catholic priests and nuns, some of them stripped naked and tied together before being thrown in the Loire River. The revolutionaries called them "republican marriages" as a way of mocking their manner of death.
Jean-Baptiste Carrier, the republican military leader in charge of subjugating royalists in Nantes, called the mass drownings "the national bathtub." Over 4,000 prisoners, many of them priests and religious, were killed in this manner. It was owing to Carrier's cruelty specifically in Nantes that he was tried and eventually executed in December 1794.
The first stones of the Nantes cathedral were laid in 1434, but the building was completed only in 1893, making it one of the longest religious constructions in French history.
Paris' Notre-Dame Cathedral, in particular its roof and spire, was devastated by a fire in April 2019.