French President Emmanuel Macron reacts as he arrives at the front entrance of the Notre-Dame de Paris Cathedral in Paris, as flames engulf its roof on April 15, 2019. – A colossal fire swept through the famed Notre-Dame Cathedral in central Paris on April 15, 2019, causing a spire to collapse and threatening to destroy the entire masterpiece and its precious artworks. The fire, which began in the early evening, sent flames and huge clouds of grey smoke billowing into the Paris sky as stunned Parisians and tourists watched on in sheer horror. (Photo by PHILIPPE WOJAZER / POOL / AFP)
Agence France-Presse

With over €700 million pledged by French businessmen and Apple CEO Tim Cook, President Emmanuel Macron has vowed to rebuild Notre-Dame Cathedral “even more beautifully” within five years.

He made the vow as all of France’s cathedrals prepared to ring their bells on Wednesday to mark 48 hours since the colossal fire began.

The blaze on Monday gutted the great Paris landmark, destroying the roof, causing the steeple to collapse and leaving France reeling with shock.

Macron announced the fast timescale for restoration — a process some experts said would take decades — in an address to the nation where he hailed how the disaster had shown the capacity of France to mobilise and unite.

Pledges worth around 700 million euros ($790 million) have already been made from French billionaires and businesses to restore the Gothic masterpiece.

An unknown number of artefacts and paintings have been lost and the main organ, which had close to 8,000 pipes, has also suffered damage.

But the cathedral’s walls, bell towers and the most famous circular stained-glass windows at France’s most visited tourist attraction remain intact.

The Holy Crown of Thorns, believed to have been worn by Jesus at his crucifixion, was saved by firefighters, as was a sacred tunic worn by 13th-century French king Louis IX.

Rescuers formed a human chain at the site of the disaster to evacuate as many artefacts as possible, which were then stocked temporarily at the Paris town hall.

Macron’s defiant comments indicated he wants the reconstruction of the cathedral to be completed by the time Paris hosts the Olympic Games in 2024.

“We will rebuild the cathedral even more beautifully and I want it to be finished within five years,” Macron said from the Elysee Palace. “And we can do it.”

Macron said that the dramatic fire had brought out the best in a country riven with divisions and since November shaken by sometimes violent protests against his rule.

“Our history never stops and that we will always have trials to overcome,” he added.

The bells of all cathedrals in France will sound at 6:50 pm (1650 GMT) on Wednesday, 48 hours after the fire started.

Images from inside the cathedral showed its immense walls standing proud, with statues still in place and a gleaming golden cross above the altar.

However the floor was covered in charred rubble from the fallen roof and water while parts of the vaulting at the top of the cathedral had collapsed.

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