A Rwandan refugee and church volunteer has admitted to setting fire to three fires that severely damaged a 15th-century Gothic cathedral in western France earlier this month, his lawyer confirmed.
The July 18 blaze destroyed the organ, shattered stained glass windows and blackened the interior of St. Peter and St. Paul’s Cathedral in the western French city of Nantes.
Nantes prosecutor Pierre Senes said the unidentified 39-year-old Rwandan asylum seeker was a volunteer at the cathedral and was tasked with concluding when he started three fires: two on cathedrals and one on an electrical box.
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Sennes said that so far the suspect “has not explained in detail his motivations.”
The man was taken into custody for questioning the day after the fire, but was released without charge, Al Jazeera reported. At the time, the rector of the cathedral told police, “I trust him as I trust all assistants.”
The suspect was detained for the second time on Saturday based on evidence gathered by police detectives and a 20-fold team of investigators who questioned more than 30 people, a Sennes statement said. That’s when he confessed to the crime, the man’s lawyer Quentin Chaber confirmed at a press conference on Sunday.
“My client is helping me,” said Chabert, according to France 24. “It was obviously a relief for him to show, as he would say, his repentance.” As a believer, it is important for him to make that effort. ”
He has been charged with “destruction and fire damage” and could face 10 years in prison and a fine of 150,000 euros ($ 175,000) if convicted, Sennes said.
The fire shattered the main stained glass windows between the two towers of the cathedral and destroyed its main organ. Added in the 17th century, the organ was called the “soul of the cathedral” by the faithful and survived the French Revolution and the bombings of World War II. The body also had previously survived a severe fire in 1972 that destroyed much of its wooden structures.
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The cathedral itself was built in five centuries and completed in 1891. The fire came just 15 months after another explosion devastated Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. It will take at least three years to fully restore Nantes Cathedral, said Pascal Prunet, France’s chief architect of historical monuments, Reuters said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.