A 39-year-old was arrested again in Nantes one week after the fire in the cathedral. He had been suspected for days – and confessed on Sunday.

A week after the fire in Nantes Cathedral in western France, a volunteer community worker confessed to the crime. A judge ordered custody of the 39-year-old for “destruction and damage by fire” on Sunday night. “He admitted to a coroner that he had three fires in the cathedral,” prosecutor Pierre Sennès told the Presse-Océan newspaper.

The detainee admitted that he had set fire to the cathedral’s large organ, a small organ and an electrical control panel. “My client was cooperative,” lawyer Quentin Chabert told the newspaper. The defense lawyer added: “He very much regrets the deeds, the confession was a relief for him.” His mandate was “plagued by remorse and very badly affected by the extent of the destruction”.

Ten years in prison and a heavy fine

If convicted, the man faces ten years in prison and a fine of 150,000 euros, according to the prosecutor.

The Gothic Saint Peter and Paul Cathedral in Nantes was badly damaged in a fire on the night of Saturday last week. The fire had broken out in three distant places in the church. Laboratory tests confirmed the suspicion of arson.

The now detained suspect was arrested just a few hours after the fire. But he was released after a day. The man works as a volunteer for the Diocese of Nantes and was responsible for the closure of the cathedral on the eve of the fire. Since there was no trace of a violent intrusion into the church, he quickly caught the eye of the investigators.

Most of the works are kept in the castle

The rector of the cathedral, Father Hubert Champenois, said last week that the volunteer minister was a “Rwandan who took refuge in France a few years ago”. He had known the man for four or five years. “I have confidence in him and in all employees,” he told AFP at the time.

The cathedral’s large organ burned down completely during the fire. A large stained glass window in the facade and paintings were also destroyed or damaged. However, Philippe Charron of the regional cultural authority said that “most of the works could be saved”. Most of them would now be kept in the castle of Nantes.

There is still no estimate of the restoration costs. French Prime Minister Jean Castex announced that the state would “fully participate in the reconstruction”

The last fire was in 1972

The last fire in the cathedral in Nantes was in 1972. Back then, a roofer had started a fire in the roof structure with a cutting torch. The church was built between 1434 and 1891 in the late Gothic flamboyant style.

The fire also brought back memories of the great fire in the Notre-Dame cathedral in Paris in April 2019 for many French people. The symbol of the French capital was badly damaged. The reopening is planned for summer 2024. A short circuit or a carelessly discarded cigarette on the roof, where renovation work took place, are considered possible causes of fire.

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