A human chain of rescue workers, led by the chaplain of the Paris Fire Brigade, retrieved priceless religious artifacts from Notre Dame Cathedral as it burned, French officials confirmed Tuesday.
Culture Minister Franck Riester said that the cathedral’s treasury of irreplaceable Christian relics – the most precious being the Crown of Thorns believed to have been worn by Jesus Christ, and the tunic of Saint Louis – was safe in the Paris city hall in a radio interview Tuesday morning.
The rescue effort was led by Catholic priest and chaplain of the Paris Fire Brigade, Jean-Marc Fournier, who went into the burning cathedral to retrieve the holy items, Philippe Goujon, the mayor of Paris’s 15th district, told reporters.
Goujon said that Fournier insisted on being allowed into Notre Dame with the other firefighters.
Reporter Etienne Loraillère of France’s KTO Catholic television network tweeted a picture of the priest outside the cathedral Monday night.
“Father Fournier, chaplain of the Paris Fire Brigade, went with the firefighters into Notre Dame Cathedral to save the Crown of Thorns and the Blessed Sacrament,” Loraillère said.
“Father Fournier is an absolute hero,” a member of the emergency services told Sky News. “He showed no fear at all as he made straight for the relics inside the cathedral, and made sure they were saved. He deals with life and death every day, and shows no fear.”
According to a 2016 profile, Father Fornier served as a military chaplain in Afghanistan before joining the fire brigade.
He was praised for his work alongside the firefighters in the immediate aftermath of the horrific Bataclan terrorist attacks in 2015, when he first helped evacuate victims and then prayed over the bodies of the dead and with victims who had lost loved ones.
“I gave collective absolution, as the Catholic Church authorizes me,” Fournier said in the profile.
The Crown of Thorns is believed to have been placed on the head of Jesus Christ during the crucifixion, and is only displayed in Notre Dame cathedral during Holy Week – which is currently taking place. It was brought to Paris in 1238 by French monarch Louis IX, who was later named a saint. A linen tunic believed to have been worn by St. Louis is also one of Notre Dame’s most precious relics that was rescued from the fire.
On Monday night, Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo had tweeted an image of artifacts that had been saved from the fire that had been transferred to the city hall.
“Thank you to the Paris Fire Brigade, the police, and municipal agents who made a formidable human chain to save the works of Notre Dame,” she wrote. “The Crown of Thorns, the tunic of St. Louis, and several other major works are now in a safe place.”