French billionaires pledge €600 million to rebuild Notre-Dame

EPA-EFE//YOAN VALAT

French firemen try to extinguish a fire as flames are burning the roof of the Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris, 15 April 2019.

French billionaires pledge €600 million to rebuild Notre-Dame


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France’s luxury-goods tycoons pledged €300 million to help with the reconstruction of Notre-Dame Cathedral after a devastating fire ravaged the historic Paris landmark on Monday.

François-Henri Pinault, the chairman and chief executive officer of Gucci owner Kering SA, and his father, François Pinault, will donate €100 million from their Artemis investment company, the family said Tuesday in an emailed statement, which came after French President Emmanuel Macron called on the international community to raise funds for the reconstruction of the 12th-century cathedral, one of the most famous churches in the world and a symbol of both Paris and France.

“My father (François Pinault) and I have decided to release from Artemis funds a sum of €100 million to participating in the effort that will be necessary for the complete reconstruction of Notre-Dame,” said Pinault’s son, William, on Twitter.

The Pinaults’ move led to their main rival in the luxury goods business, the Arnault family, to respond with a pledge of €200 million, plus the architectural and design resources of their LVMH fashion conglomerate.

Bernard Arnault, the third-richest man in the world, offered to use his companies’ resources to help rebuild Notre-Dame, a Gothic architectural masterpiece and a UNESCO designated world heritage site.

French oil giant Total has also pledged €100 million for the cathedral’s reconstruction. Total CEO Patrick Pouyanné announced his firm’s contribution by quoting Paris’ Latin moto fluctuat nec mergitur, “rocked by the waves, but does not sink.”

“Together, we will rebuild it,” said Macron late Monday, adding that the cathedral is “part of our French destiny.”

The fire at the 856-year-old cathedral began Monday evening and caused the historic edifice’s spire to crash to the ground and destroyed two-thirds of the cathedral’s 13th-century oak roof. After initial fears that the cathedral could collapse, the Paris fire department said that Notre-Dame’s main structure was saved and that its medieval artefacts were spared and moved to the nearby Louvre.

Anne Hidalgo, the mayor of Paris, said she will coordinate with Bishop Patrick Chauvet, the rector of Notre-Dame Cathedral, to mobilise private funds for the restoration, which could take up to a decade, according to some architectural experts.

Nearly 400 firefighters fought the blaze for more than nine hours, according to the French fire department, and two police officers and a firefighter were slightly injured in the process.

“It (Notre-Dame) is a symbol. It is even more than a symbol: it is a sign, it is the soul of France,” said Archbishop Michel Aupetit of Paris, who added that the majority of the art treasures in Notre-Dame were saved, including revered religious items such as pieces of the crown of thorns, believed by many to be from the crown placed on the head of Christ during the crucifixion, and the tunic of Saint Louis. Those that were lost, however, include venerated objects located near the church’s soaring spire.

The famed spire was not a part of the original High Gothic construction from the middle 12th-century but was added by architect Eugène Viollet-le-Duc during Notre-Dame’s extensive 1844-1864 renovation. At the time of the of Viollet-le-Duc’s repairs Notre-Dame, which had been the site of Napoleon Bonaparte‘s coronation as emperor of France in 1804, was in a state of deep disrepair.

The cathedral suffered from mass desecration during the French Revolution which saw much of its religious imagery damaged or destroyed. Many of the treasures of the cathedral were either destroyed or plundered. The twenty-eight statues of biblical kings located at the west façadewere beheaded after being mistaken by revolutionary Jacobin supporters for statues of French kings.

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