France’s richest man has pledged $225 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.
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.
“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, said Macron.
“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 two French billionaires.
The wife of billionaire François-Henri Pineault, Salma Hyek pledged 100 million euros (US$112 million) on April 15.
On the morning of April 16, as the city mourned the loss of the eight-century-old Gothic cathedral, billionaire Bernard Arnault promised 200 million euros ($225 million) in a statement.
“In the wake of this national tragedy, the Arnault family and the LVMH Group pledge their support for Notre Dame,” said statement by the 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.”
The flames ripped through the building in the early evening of April 15, climbed the spire—which collapsed to the gasps and cries of tearful onlookers—before destroying the whole 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.
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 President Trump in a tweet, later adding, “God bless the people of France.”