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‘There was an eerie silence as people looked in astonishment’

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AN Islander on holiday in Paris has spoken about witnessing the moving moment spontaneous singing broke out in front of Notre Dame Cathedral and church bells across the city rang out in solidarity, as the 850-year-old icon was gutted by fire.

JPRestaurants director Dominic Jones, who was visiting the city with his wife, Sophie, and his three youngest children, was at dinner with friends on Monday night when a daughter of one of the group who was on her way home from school sent a picture of the cathedral on fire.

Mr Jones, who previously spent four years living in Paris, said he felt compelled to go and see the events unfold.

‘I was staying about ten minutes’ walk away with friends in an apartment I lived in when I first lived in Paris in 1989 for three years. After dinner and when my family were asleep I walked up and spent time watching from the Pont Saint-Michel,’ he said.

‘I felt this urge to go down to see what was happening. There were just tens of thousands of people, but there was an eerie silence and people were just looking up in astonishment. Then, spontaneous singing was breaking out of French hymns – a lot of them were to Our Lady like Ave Maria and songs related to Notre Dame. You could see the head torches of the firemen in the bell towers moving around. There were no helicopters, no planes, and no sirens, just this smell of smoke in the air. It was quite eerie but actually really quite uplifting. People weren’t gawping, they were there in solidarity for the Church. And then, spontaneously as well, all the churches in Paris started to ring their bells.’

He added: ‘That morning I had been showing my family the Palais de Justice, where I had been called to the Paris bar in 1992, and we had walked down the side of Notre Dame. We had breakfast nearby and had been looking up at all the gargoyles and talking about it. It had been full of tourists and actually we had decided to leave. But watching the fire, it was mainly French people there.

‘I’m actually glad my daughters didn’t see the fire, at the height of it it would have been really quite shocking.’

By Tuesday morning he said it was largely ‘business as usual’ in Paris.

‘I just felt incredibly sad. It was a big part of life when I lived there. But it is a great city and I’m sure it will bounce back.’

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Meanwhile, Chief Minister John Le Fondré tweeted his thoughts on behalf of the Island on Monday night: ‘The thoughts of all Islanders are with our friends and neighbours in France tonight, and especially the emergency services who are fighting to save Notre Dame. Nous sommes avec vous.’

Experts have since said there is little that firefighters could have done to control the blaze that tore through the cathedral any sooner.

The cause of the blaze is now under investigation, but authorities said that the cathedral’s structure – including its landmark rectangular towers – had been saved.

The Paris Fire Service, Pompiers de Paris, said on Twitter that Notre Dame’s structure and artworks were intact.

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Experts spent yesterday assessing the blackened shell of the cathedral to establish the next steps to save what remains of the structure.

French tycoon Bernard Arnault and his luxury goods group LVMH have pledged 200 million euros (£173 million) towards the reconstruction of Notre Dame, following a reported 100 million euro (£86 million) donation from another French billionaire, Francois Pinault.

Last year Mr Pinault gave £2.6m to save the Guernsey home where French author Victor Hugo wrote Les Misérables. The celebrated writer of The Hunchback of Notre Dame lived at Hauteville House from 1856 to 1870, having previously spent time in Jersey in the 1850s.

Lucy Stephenson

By Lucy Stephenson
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