Ein 39-year-old Rwandan volunteer church officials said during the night on Sunday that they had set fire to the cathedral in Nantes. He was taken into custody and faced a prison sentence of up to ten years and a fine of up to 150,000 euros. His lawyer Quentin Chabert told the Presse-Océan newspaper that his client “bitterly” regrets his act.
The man, whose residence permit in France had not been renewed, was interrogated by the police immediately after the fire. He was responsible for the closure of the cathedral. The suspicion fell on him because no signs of burglary could be secured. However, he was released after the first interrogation in police custody.
On Saturday evening, the responsible public prosecutor, Pierre Sennès, ordered a new interrogation after the investigation had clearly identified arson as the cause of the fire. The fire had been set in three different places, in front of the large organ and in the two aisles. The Rwandan was confessing. The background to the crime is said to have been the fact that his residence permit had not been renewed.
No estimate of restoration costs yet
The man had worked as a community worker in Nantes for four years. The rector of the cathedral, Hubert Champenois, expressed his “full confidence” after the fire. Speaking to the AFP news agency, Champenois said the man “loves the cathedral” and never wanted to destroy it. The history of the man who fled Rwanda is unknown. He has been cared for by the community since his arrival in France and has been accommodated.
The severe fire in the night of Saturday last week caused severe damage to the late Gothic St. Peter and Paul Cathedral. The organ, a masterpiece from the 17th century, was completely burned. A large stained glass window in the facade and paintings were also destroyed or damaged. There is still no estimate of the restoration costs.
The last fire in the cathedral in Nantes was in 1972. Back then, a roofer had started a fire in the roof structure with his cutting torch. The church was built between 1434 and 1891 in the late Gothic flamboyant style.