Father Jean-Marc Fournier outside Notre Dame in Paris, April 15, 2019.
PARIS, April 16, 2019 (LifeSiteNews) – A priest who is now being called a hero braved the flames that threatened to consume the iconic cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris, saving the Blessed Sacrament, as well as the Crown of Thorns worn by Jesus Christ that has been enshrined at the church since the 13th century.
Father Jean-Marc Fournier, the chaplain of the Paris Fire Brigade, saved relics of the Crucifixion, including the Crown of Thorns and a nail from the Holy Cross. According to Ireland’s NewsTalk radio, a first responder said that the priest “is an absolute hero.” He added, “He showed no fear and went straight away for the relics inside the cathedral and made certain that they were safe. He deals with life and death daily, and shows no fear.”
Fournier (54) is a military veteran, having served as a chaplain in the French army. He once survived an attack in Afghanistan in which insurgents took the lives of 10 troops. He later became famous for praying over the dead and wounded in the wake of the massacre at Paris’ Bataclan concert hall when Muslim terrorists claimed the lives of 90 people in 2015. He is a former member of the Priestly Fraternity of Saint Peter – a traditionalist community of priests and seminarians who are in communion with the Pope.
Smoke and flames rose from the roof line of Notre Dame on the afternoon of April 15. While firefighters tried to douse the fire, thousands of Parisians went to the street below to watch the passing of history. In an unusual sight in secular France, Catholics were seen singing hymns and praying as they knelt in the street as they watched the conflagration. French authorities are pursuing the theory that the fire was an accident. Recent vandalism and arson at Catholic churches in France, which included multi-million dollar damages to the famed Saint Sulpice church in Paris, have led some to fear that the fire at Notre Dame may not have been accidental.
Brought to Paris by French King Louis 1238, the Crown of Thorns was placed on the head of Jesus Christ in the hours before His Crucifixion and death. Rarely displayed, the Crown is kept in a reliquary in the cathedral treasury. Rarely seen, the Crown of Thorns is traditionally put on display every year on Good Friday. Reportedly, a fragment of the Crown that had been kept in the steeple is believed to have been lost as a result of the fire that broke out near the roof of Notre Dame on April 15.
Fears grew that the whole edifice would collapse as the flames brought down the steeple and consumed parts of the roof. However, firefighters were able to control the blaze within nine hours. The fire broke out on the first day of Holy Week where Christians commemorate the passion of Jesus Christ, namely his historical death and resurrection.
Paris’ Mayor Anne Hidalgo said that first-responders formed a human chain to save precious relics and works of art from the burning church. Hidalgo said, “The Crown of Thorns, the tunic of Saint Louis and several other major works are now in a safe place.”
There are accounts of the veneration of the Crown of Thorns dating to the 5th century A.D. It was transferred from Jerusalem to Byzantium in the 11th century and bits of it were entrusted to various princes in Europe thereafter. In 1238, Baldwin II, the Latin emperor of Byzantium, sold it to King Louis IX of France. The king built the marvelous Sainte-Chapelle to display the Crown and other relics at Notre Dame. It remained there until it was seized during the Revolution and kept at the National Library until its restoration to the Church in 1896. A new reliquary was made in silver and rock crystal for the precious relic, which has been at Notre Dame ever since.
Cardinal Robert Sarah, a native of Guinea who serves as the Prefect for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments tweeted after the disaster, “How not to be upset by the emotion, the dignity, the unity of a nation around its cathedral, Notre-Dame de Paris? After the tears will come joy because Mary will always be the most beautiful. After sorrow, hope will come because Mary will always be the strongest.”