Man in custody after French cathedral set on fire

NANTES, France — A man is in custody after fires set Saturday morning inside Saint-Pierre-et-Saint-Paul cathedral shattered stained glass windows and destroyed an organ.

Investigators said the man, a 39-year-old Rwandan refugee who volunteered at the 15th century French cathedral, locked up the building on Friday night, Reuters reported.

Officials said he was being questioned but had not been charged.

“To my knowledge, as things stand there is nothing that directly links my client to the cathedral fire,” Quentin Chabert, the man’s attorney, said Sunday. “I’d like to remind everyone of the presumption of innocence for my client.”

Three fires were set inside the Nantes cathedral with no signs of a break-in, investigators said. Firefighters had the blaze under control in a few hours but not before it caused extensive damage to the main organ, a centerpiece of the cathedral, and shattered stained glass windows between the two towers.

The cathedral's roof was not affected and officials brushed off comparisons to Notre Dame cathedral, whose lead roof and spire were completely destroyed by fire in April 2019.

“After Notre-Dame, the Saint-Pierre-et-Saint-Paul cathedral, in the heart of Nantes, is in flames,” French President Emmanuel Macron wrote on social media.

The main organ, dating from the 17th century, had survived a previous fire in 1972. Concrete replaced the burned out wood from that catastrophe, limiting the devastation Saturday.

“The damage is concentrated on the great organ which appears to be completely destroyed. The platform on which it is located is very unstable and risks collapsing,” Gen. Laurent Ferlay, head of the firefighters in the Loire Atlantique area, said.

The cathedral, completed in 1891, was built over the course of five centuries.

“It is a part of our history, a part of our heritage” Nantes Mayor Johanna Rolland said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.