As It Happens

First reporter inside Notre-Dame finds hope in 'striking image' of cathedral's cross

The first reporter inside the Notre-Dame after the fire tells us that amidst the heavy smoke and damage inside the cathedral, the crucifix stood upright and untouched — an image he'll never forget.

Robert Hardman describes the 'extraordinary' moment when he saw the cathedral's crucifix was still standing

Smoke rises around the alter in front of the cross inside the Notre-Dame Cathedral, as a fire continued to burn in Paris early Tuesday. (Philippe Wojazer/Reuters)
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Emmanuel Macron told French citizens on Tuesday: "I feel your pain, but I also share your hope."

The French president has vowed to do whatever it takes to rebuild the Notre-Dame Cathedral after Monday's devastating fire.

There were fears that the cathedral's priceless stained glass, sculptures and relics would be lost forever. But as the smoke clears, there is cause for optimism.

Robert Hardman is a Daily Mail reporter in Paris and was the first journalist to see the interior of the Notre-Dame after the fire had gone out.

As It Happens host Carol Off spoke to Hardman about the scene inside. Here is part of their conversation.

Robert, when we were covering this story [Monday] night the mood in Paris was bleak. Is that still the case?

No. The mood has palpably changed. Last night, as you say, there was a feeling of utter dejection.

People were very distressed. They were seriously contemplating the loss of the entire cathedral. In the early hours of this morning, it was clear that the towers were still standing. That the outer structure was still in one piece.

And now, today, the sense is more one of great sadness that a much loved national treasure is scarred and very badly damaged. But also, there is a sense of almost salvation.

A portion of Notre Dame Cathedral, as damage from the blaze progresses. (Getty Images)

Very early this morning, you were able to get inside the cathedral. What did you see when you got there?

I managed to get through a couple of police cordons right in front of the cathedral.

I just noticed a delegation of rather important looking people and fire chiefs heading for the west doors. So I thought I'd tag along.

Inside, I found flames still flickering overhead, further down the aisle. It was clear the fire was — well, it was hopefully  — under control, but it was still very much raging in parts.

We were standing in about an inch of water. There was a deplorable smell, as you get with a bad fire. There was water cascading through holes in the roof from all the fire engines outside pumping pressure hoses through the void.

So it was a scene of controlled chaos.

And then suddenly, in the middle of it all, the firemen's torches, which were flipping around looking for pockets of fire, suddenly picked up this extraordinary image at the far end, that there was a cross.

The main gold cross, it's called, was still in place and upright above the altar. It was a very striking image, I have to say.

That's extraordinary.

Today, it's one of the major talking points here in Paris.

It's quite interesting how people, even people who are avowed atheists, have been commenting on social media that it left them very moved — that it's a very striking symbol of defiance, really.

One of the first photographs Robert Hardman took from inside the Notre-Dame Cathedral after the fire. He calls the photo of the cross still standing upright a 'symbol of defiance.' (Robert Hardmann/Daily Mail)

I guess there was a sense that there was something miraculous about the fact that this cross had survived and that you could see it suddenly in the midst of all this burned out ruin.

Yes. It's been a recurring theme today — a very interesting one — that here we are in an avowedly secular nation, where religion and the state are kept very well apart.

And yet, a lot of people have said to me that they'd never known so much sort of overt talk about religion, about faith, and theology.

On TV, the sight of people praying in the streets. People talking about the need to get down on their knees. It's not terribly French, actually.

I think the fact that this extraordinary emblematic part of the French identity came so close to being destroyed, [but] it's still here and in one piece, I think it has rekindled a certain, let's say, a sense of the spiritual. And whether you're of a religious disposition, or whether you have no faith at all, it doesn't really matter.

I think everyone is united in the sense that something quite remarkable has happened here and it's something that everyone should be grateful for.

Written by Jeanne Armstrong and John McGill. Interview produced by Jeanne Armstrong. Q&A edited for length and clarity.

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