PARIS - Bells tolled across France Wednesday, marking the moment flames began demolishing parts of Notre Dame Cathedral. The focus is now on rebuilding the Paris cathedral and finding the cause of the inferno that ravaged one of the worlds most iconic landmarks. The unity forged by the fire may be short-lived.
From village churches to Saint Sulpice in Paris, the sound was of bells. Notre Dame is badly damaged by Mondays fire but still standing. Some of its biggest treasures have been saved: the bell towers and rose windows, along with priceless artifacts - like a crown of thorns said to have been worn by Jesus.
Earlier Wednesday, Prime Minister Edouard Philippe announced a global competition to design the replacement for Notre Dames spire that collapsed in the inferno. The cathedral had fire alarms but reportedly lacked some basic safety measures.
President Emmanuel Macron wants to repair Notre Dame in five years, when Paris hosts the Olympics. Some experts estimate it will take much longer. But reconstruction money is pouring in nearly a billion dollars in donations so far.
In an address to the nation, Macron said the fire offered an occasion to come together. We can be better than we are, he said.
But its unclear whether Notre Dame or Macron can unify a deeply divided France that has seen months of yellow vest protests over government policies.
Nicolas Chouin, who joined the crowds of people flocking to see the charred cathedral, said he hopes healing will occur.
Its something beyond us - beyond our little problems of everyday life. So it can be a rewarding event in a way. Of course it doesnt solve all the political issueswell see if its just a parenthesis.
The fire caused Frances squabbling parties to suspend campaigning for European Union elections, but most observers think the truce will be short-lived. The French are also waiting for Macron to announce planned measures to meet popular grievances also delayed by the inferno.
Investigators are interviewing construction workers who might have inadvertently started the blaze. So far, the cause is still considered likely to be accidental.