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Amid the ashes, France vows ‘resurrection’ for Notre Dame

In Paris, the fire at Notre Dame Cathedral is extinguished, but devastating damage remains. Parisians stood alongside global travelers at the site Tuesday, paying tribute to the landmark of cultural achievement that has stood for nearly a millennium. Amid the ashes, the rescue of several of the most beloved artifacts seemed miraculous. Special correspondent Malcolm Brabant reports from Paris.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    The Cathedral of Notre Dame lies dark and silent tonight in Paris, burned out by an inferno. The disaster has left France and much of the world in shock, but a campaign to restore the medieval monument is already beginning.

    Malcolm Brabant spent this day in Paris, and has this report.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    Daylight brought clarity and the first opportunity to see just how profound the devastation had been.

    Inside, sunlight revealed a gaping hole where Notre Dame's spire once stood. Charred debris lay where priests once led prayer. Parisians and travelers from around the world came to mourn a World Heritage symbol that has stood for almost a millennium. A cellist played a requiem.

  • Jean Yves Romanetti (through translator):

    It's true that it's terribly tragic. When we heard about it yesterday, we were devastated. I didn't want to come, but I watched the television, and I felt like I was at a friend's deathbed, and it made me awfully sad.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    The 850-year-old Gothic cathedral withstood 16th-century riots, the French Revolution, and the Second World War. Its roof beams came from French forests that no longer exist. Now those beams don't either.

    But some of its priceless artifacts were rescued by firefighters and clergy, who formed a human chain to carry them to safety. These included the Crown of Thorns, which Jesus is believed to have worn on the cross.

    Also saved was the 18th century organ, the world's largest, and the iconic stained-glass rose windows. Officials call it a miracle.

  • Ariel Weil (through translator):

    At the city hall at the moment, you have got the treasure, the most precious parts of the works which are movable. Everything was moved overnight. It's a small miracle in the misfortune.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    The American ambassador, Jamie McCourt, joined Parisians on the bridges across the Seine. She paid tribute to the heroism of those who saved Notre Dame's treasures.

  • Jamie McCourt:

    I honestly don't know how they managed to save as much as they saved. When you originally watched it on the news last evening, it looked like it was going to be an impossible task.

    I think that the firemen did a remarkable job. I think they are true heroes. I don't know how they get up and do the same thing every day, saving buildings, saving historic places, saving these dreams that people have.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    Lucinda Laird is dean of the American Cathedral in Paris.

  • Lucinda Laird:

    It's brought out in all of us how much we care, not just about the building, which is gorgeous and historic, but about what it stands for, Paris, France, Europe, the world, tradition, Christian faith at its finest, Christian faith that endures.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    The dean is grateful that so many relics survived.

  • Lucinda Laird:

    The relics are important. Whether or not it really was Jesus' Crown of Thorns, for instance, who knows? What's important is that it was a focus of faith, a focus of people's prayers for hundreds of years.

    So the things themselves are not so important as what they stand for, what they mean to people, the faith they evoke.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    At present, the precise cause of the inferno is unclear, but it's thought to be linked to the renovation. The chief prosecutor says that he is leaning towards the theory that it was accidental. But he says it's going to be a long and complex inquiry, and some 50 investigators have been assigned to the case.

    After seeing the ruins, French Interior Minister Christophe Castaner talked of reconstruction.

  • Christophe Castaner (through translator):

    Notre-Dame de Paris is the cathedral of the people, of the people of Paris, of the French people, of the people of the world. It is part of our history, of what we have in common, of what we share. Ladies and gentlemen, now is the time for reconstruction, for solidarity.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    So far, more than half-a-billion dollars has been pledged, most of it from French billionaires. But offers have been flooding in from across the globe, including the United States.

    President Trump offered assistance in his phone conversation with President Macron, before he updated France on the latest damage assessment.

  • Emmanuel Macron (through translator):

    I'm telling you this tonight with force. We are a people of builders. We will rebuild the Notre Dame Cathedral, even more beautifully, and I want this to be done within five years. We can do it, and here again we will mobilize.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    At the American University of Paris, art historian Anna Russakoff says reconstruction won't be straightforward.

  • Anna Russakoff:

    The Notre Dame that you saw a few days ago was heavily restored in the 19th century. So, actually, the spire that just fell was a 19th century spire. So the question would be, do you want to restore Notre Dame to what it looked like a few days ago in 2019, heavily restored from the 19th century, or would you want to restore it to look like closer to when it was originally constructed?

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    The destruction of such an important Catholic symbol in the holiest week of the Christian calendar has a special significance for Pope Francis. He said: "Notre Dame is the architectural gem of a collective memory, a place of gathering for great events, a witness of the faith and prayer of Catholics in the heart of the city."

    Dean Laird of the American Cathedral also sees religious symbolism in the blaze.

  • Lucinda Laird:

    It's Holy Week. So it is ironic, but it is also quite perfect in a way. This is the week we walk through death. This is the week we walk through death to resurrection.

    And so what I'm beginning to hear and feel myself is that this is just one step. There's going to be a resurrection. That cathedral is going to be restored. It will be different, but it will still be Notre Dame.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    The wounded, but still beating heart of France.

    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Malcolm Brabant in Paris.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    This evening, hundreds of people gathered near Notre Dame for a prayer vigil. The crowd carried candles, sang hymns and marched to a plaza that faces the cathedral.

Listen to this Segment