Video footage from the scene showed smoke billowing out of the Cathedral of Saint Pierre and Saint Paul, which dates back to the 15th century.
Flames could also be seen leaping inside the building in footage released by the French fire brigade, which deployed over 100 firefighters to the scene to tackle the “major fire”.
— Pompiers de France (@PompiersFR) July 18, 2020
Several hours later emergency officials announced that ‘the fire had been contained and noted that the damage was not comparable to last year’s inferno at the Notre Dame cathedral in Paris.’ (sic!)
“The damage is concentrated on the organ, which seems to be completely destroyed. It’s platform is very unstable and could collapse,” regional fire chief General Laurent Ferlay told reporters in front of the cathedral.
Prosecutor Pierre Sennes revealed that three fires had been started at the church and authorities were treating the incident as a criminal act. He declined to give further details.
An eyewitness who lives near the cathedral earlier told the LCI news outlet that he was woken up by “a very strange sound of bells” and he could see the fire from his home. “From what I can see, there is more and more smoke,” he said.
— Frédéric Vasse (@fredericvasse) July 18, 2020
Un incendie s’est déclaré ce samedi matin à la cathédrale de Nantes. Les pompiers sont nombreux sur les lieux. pic.twitter.com/cGiiC36xiO
— Presse Océan (@presseocean) July 18, 2020
The roof of the Catholic cathedral previously suffered fire significant damage in 1972 when a blaze broke out.
The impressive building had to be closed for three years to allow the necessary restorations to take place.
The church was also partly destroyed during World War Two when it was bombed by Allied forces in 1944.
The fire comes just over a year after Notre Dame fell victim to a massive blaze, which destroyed its main spire and caused extensive damage.
Since 1862, the Nantes Cathedral has been listed as a historic monument by the French Ministry of Culture. The cathedral is constructed in the Gothic architectural tradition and the building, considered to be one of the great products of the Renaissance, is lit by a 25-metre glass dome created by cantonal master-builder François Chapuis dedicated to the saints of Brittany.