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A Case for Maigret: What was the origin of the Notre-Dame de Paris fire?

The French government seems to have been suspiciously quick, perhaps eager, to deny the possibility that a crime of arson was responsible for the near loss of Notre-Dame de Paris.

Debris surrounds a depiction of the Pieta by Nicolas Coustou in Notre Dame Cathedral April 16, 2019, a day after a fire destroyed much of the church's wooden structure. (CNS photo/Christophe Petit Tesson pool via Reuters)

Twenty-four hours after the blaze at Notre-Dame last April 15 was brought under control, the cause of the fire was officially announced by the Élysée. In the professed view of the French government, the disaster could only have been an accident. The possibility of a deliberate attack upon the cathedral was dismissed.

Nicholas Dupont-Aignan, President of Debout la France, was skeptical from the start. The government’s certainty, he suggested, did not appear to agree with its warning that the inquest into the fire’s origin would be long and difficult. Four months later, as reported in a three-part feature printed in Valeurs Actuelles (22 August 2019), Dupont-Aignan was persisting in his skepticism in the face of condemnation by the political class. “I have informed myself of the business, I have discussed it with the connaisseurs of Notre-Dame: it would require a sequence of exceptional circumstances to set fire to such a frame [as Notre Dame’s]. I do not say that an accident is impossible, but I claim the right to investigate.”

Dupont-Aignan’s skepticism is supported by the fact that on April 25 the brigade criminelle was granted access to the scene to investigate the cathedral. As Valeurs notes, the famous brigade is generally employed in cases involving homicides, kidnappings for ransom, and so on—personal crimes of the sort Georges Simenon’s Jules Maigret was charged with solving. Why then was it brought in to handle a case involving the accidental near-destruction of Notre-Dame?

The firefighters affirm as one man that the fire destroyed, among so many other things, every trace of its causation. Their testimony allowed the Procurator of France to reaffirm the official claim, while adding that “nothing permits the accreditation of the hypothesis of a criminal origin.” Investigators, who went to work almost as soon as the fire department arrived at the scene of the inferno, have therefore conducted their inquiries in other directions. Perhaps an electrical malfunction was at fault. Perhaps the workmen on the scaffolding surrounding the cathedral had been smoking, in defiance of safety rules. Nine cigarette butts discarded by workers carried traces of their DNA, but four others went unaccounted for.

Valeurs noted with surprise that the investigation discounted the possibility of an “imprudent” visitor, although climbing onto the roof of the building is a favorite game among young thrill seekers and a police source disclosed that on the morning of the fire at least one unidentified person had been spotted on the scaffolding after it had been closed for the day. An anonymous informer has claimed that Notre-Dame is “well-known” to grimpeurs like himself, adding that he had proposed to his fiancée on the cathedral roof in 2013, she in a long gown and he in a smoking jacket, where they ate dinner accompanied by two climbing friends disguised as valets.

Lastly, le Canard enchainé has revealed that the Minister of Culture, before the fire, had considerably reduced the number of night guards and other protective agents present at any one time around the cathedral.

Inevitably, in the absence of conclusive findings rumors of plots and complots abound. According to one of these the gilets jaunes set the fire to distract the country from President Macron’s scheduled address to the nation that evening. Another, started by Serbian nationalists, claims that the tragedy was divinely inspired to punish the French for their celebration of Armistice Day the year before. A third, circulating among French Muslims, views it as Allah’s revenge for their supposed mistreatment in France. A final one, with oddly supernatural overtones, results from an optical illusion produced by the statue surmounting the pinion of the North Transept above the rosace, imagined by some spectators to be a person surveying the blaze.

Governments of every kind are notorious for playing a close hand when revealing information regarding major disasters. A lesser or greater degree of opacity is thus expected of them following these. Nevertheless, the French government seems to have been suspiciously quick, perhaps eager, to deny the possibility that a crime of arson was responsible for the near loss of Notre-Dame de Paris. Since governments are also constitutionally inclined to imagine the worst-case scenario arising from any catastrophe and protect themselves proactively from its effects, it is reasonable to consider what that scenario might be in instance of Notre-Dame.

The answer is what must have sprung to many French minds as news of the event spread on the evening of April 15—the day after Palm Sunday—very much including the minds of French officialdom. It is, of course, that the fire was set by a Muslim saboteur, or saboteurs, after closing hours. The obvious motive would have been, beyond the destruction of the cathedral itself, the transformation of Holy Week into a week of spiritual pain, dismay, and humiliation throughout Christendom. The disaster would have been perceived objectively as a blasphemous crime, and symbolically as a defeat for Christianity at the hands of Islam.

Thus there is believable motive here. The Muslim banlieues of Paris and other French cities are increasingly resentful of what they regard as degrading treatment by the native population, while the French people more and more resent immigration to France, Muslim immigration especially. President Emanuel Macron has just announced that his government will give new and serious attention to the subject. Le Figaro, the conservative paper, regularly prints lengthy essays about immigration and the destructive effects it has upon the historic French culture and the French way of life. Clearly, the issue of immigration is coming to a head in France.

Should the official investigation uncover convincing evidence to support the hypothesis of Muslim responsibility for the burning of Notre-Dame, the French government would face its gravest decision since the Algerian War: whether to make its findings public, or not. In the case that it did, the result would be the greatest social and political crisis since that war. In the case that it didn’t, and the facts came out anyway, the same result would ensue. In these circumstances, it is hardly surprising that on the evening of April 15 the government was apparently so eager to jump to a happy conclusion.

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About Chilton Williamson, Jr. 21 Articles
Chilton Williamson, Jr. is the author of several works of fiction, narrative nonfiction, and “pure” nonfiction, including After Tocqueville: The Promise and Failure of Democracy, Jerusalem, Jerusalem! A Novel and, mostly recently, The End of Liberalism (St. Augustine's Press, 2023). He has also written hundreds of essays, critical reviews, and short stories for publications including Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture, Harper’s, The New Republic, National Review, Commonweal, The New Leader, The American Spectator, among others. You can visit him online at


  1. There is NO Charles Martel {The Hammer}to save France this time around.Only the PC socialists of Mr Marcon to lay the brick roads for the Muslim occupation.The Notre Dame arson attack has been put to sleep.

  2. The name of the Cathedral is not Our Lady of Notre Dame, which would mean “Our Lady of Our Lady” Is it not Notre Dame de Paris? Our Lady of Paris

    • The name of the cathedral was Notre Dame de Victoire: Our Lady of Victory. Our Lady has turned her face from France’s apostasy. France will never be the new Roman Empire. Muslims didn’t do this. They revere Our Lady equally with Fatima. If this was arson, it was done by French God haters conducting their reign of terror against the Catholic Church.

  3. This is the only unfiltered reportage I’ve encountered regarding this tragedy. It is much appreciated. Western secular materialism and Islam make for strange bedfellows indeed, but only those steeped in self-deception refuse to admit what is before our eyes.

  4. Thank you for this thoughtful and honest update. The official position is transparently dishonest: all the evidence is gone but it must have been an accident.

  5. Has any Muslim group claimed responsibility? This article is pure unadulterated speculation with no evidence whatsoever to support its suggestions. It is irresponsible of CWR to publish it.

    “He who conceals hatred has lying lips, and he who utters slander is a fool.” Proverbs 10:18

    • As a college student I was fortunate to study on site Gothic architecture in France and to visit the area between the ceiling and the roof of Notre Dame de Chartres. Attempting to start a fire in that attic area with a discarded cigarette would be like bringing down a great oak tree with a spark. It can’t be done.
      The fire at Notre Dame is indeed an unsolved mystery. That the eye of suspicion comes to rest upon a disgruntled Islamic community in France cannot be surprising. To overlook that possibility would be criminal in itself. The animus of Moslems toward the secular French state, let alone Catholicism, is palatable and has been in place for many decades. Perhaps you did not get to view the footage on the evening news of 15 April providing an uncensored view of Parisian Moslems laughing and cheering as Notre Dame burned?
      The secular materialist French might also be regarded as suspect but in reality they regard religion as a joke, Catholicism particularly, and could care less about bringing down a cathedral. The fact that it is a secondarily a symbol of French history and a lucrative tourist attraction would seem to make Notre Dame exempt from the hostility of unbelievers. What one needs to be wary of with the secularists is whether they will restore or renovate Notre Dame de Paris.

    • If it was done by a muslim group it would be most counter productive for them to claim responsibility. After all, islam is a religion of peace, is it not?
      The timing of the fire at this great cathedral during the Christian Holy Week is very suspect, to any thinking person.

  6. Hoping that the Catholic publications and people can help to prepare the people already , that in asking for mercy on any one who has been instigated into any evil, by the hatreds of hell, similar evils in many a life in our times too would be helped ..
    France , the land of The Immaculate Conception , with the healing waters of
    Lourdes , being blessed to accept the love through The Mother , to trust that each of us has been foreseen and loved and planned by The Father , in The Lord , from our own mustard seed like beginnings …and that trust and gratitude , in turn , to help wash off the mountains of darkness of generational evils and impurities , in The Blood and Water .
    In the truth and authority of a world that has been consecrated to the Mother , let us hope that news such as these would help persons all over, Christians and nonChristians , to seek out that love and its holiness , in The Father for us
    all , to help put out the flames of all sorts of evil passions world over , that good prayer sites such as the one below can be used as a powerful aid ,to help convey the beauty and goodness of The Father , meant for the whole world , in chant music, beautiful images and prayers , accessible right in the hiddenness of homes , even in the farthest deserts , that they may bloom, in goodness and truth –

    O Mary , conceived without sin , pray for us all , deliver us all from every evil .

  7. Thank you for your True Catholic Man courage, brother Chilton Williamson, Jr.!! Thanks to Catholic World Report! We need many more like you, Mr. Williamson, Sir!! In stark contrast, Emmanuel (how ironic a name!) Macron, President of France, has established himself as the “Great Pontiff” of hate-filled secular materialism, radical tyrannical homosexuality and Radical Fanatical Islam, all different names for the very same hatred against the True God and the True Christian Faith. I would not be surprised if all three, including the satanic multi-face chameleon of Freemasonry, the great uniter for all ant-Catholic haters, orchestrated this heinous crime against humanity of burning the Great Cathedral of Notre Dame, the “Twin Towers” of Freedom and Faith in Europe.

    We’re in for a heck of a fight and fight we must!! With Jesus victory is assured!! Our holy ancestors fought bravely in the middle of blood-soaked Roman persecution, the Catacombs, Lepanto, etc. and in so many other battles, military, moral, spiritual and personal. Jesus came to destroy the devil’s works in our hearts, the world and the universe (1 John 3:8). Say NO to false pacifism and their evil-empowering, blood-soaked, false “love” and “false “compassion”! We must unite under the banner of God’s Emmanuel against Satan’s Emmanuel. Greater is He that is in us than he who infects the world!! (1 John 4:4). With God we are, have always been, and will always be, an invincible majority! (Exodus 15:11).

    • Max M, actually there’s a purpose. Both inside and outside the Church, people like Emmanuel Macron and many others of similar dark standards, evil attitudes and devious purposes cultivate an image of “greatness”, of “peace and justice” stalwarts, etc. and use that to attack the Church and corrupt the world. They need to be unmasked as part of the Worlwide Satanic Impostor Gospel which has infiltrated and corrupted the Church under the disguises of false charity, false love, false inclusion, false compassion, false justice, etc.

      Both the media and our own brothers and sisters in the Faith have mistakenly lifted these individulas and many others like them as extremely influential false idols. These poisonous false idols MUST be cast down for God’s Glory because “they push people away from God’s Love for them” (Jonah 2:8). God has made us directly responsible for the Triumph of the His Plan in all humans (Ezekiel 3:18) and God wants to save all, if we do much more that just sit quietly on the fence and watch! (by the way, the fence belongs to Satan).

    • No purpose unless, of course, the next fire is at your church and the next casualties are your children.
      I would prefer not to think like Peter Pan. TYVM.

  8. Recently on the Science Channel there was a show entitled “Build It Better.” Each installment takes a great architectural or engineering achievement of the past and seeks to determine how we would “do it better” with contemporary technology.
    They bravely took on the issue of Notre Dame de Paris — two hours, double the usual — and concluded that the proposal to replace the roof with a nature garden would be, could be, an appropriate approach given that the original structure was dedicated to a “mother figure” and the revisioned structure could pay homage to “Mother Earth.”
    Here we are on the cusp of the Anaconda Synod with the enthusiastic fueling of the post-Ignatian Jesuits, “post-fascist” German episcopate and the animists of the jungle already to “revision” Holy Mother Church, the Bride of Christ. It does magnify the prophetic dimension of the events of 15 April 2019. In the end, does it matter if Islamist extremists desecrated Notre Dame when we have a crew of ecclesiastics and post-Christian secular materialists who are more than willing and able to bring not just a church building, but the whole Church into collapse?

  9. Whatever the possible cause, Islamists or an act of divine displeasure, the inevitable prospect of atheist architects and engineers promoting their quasi masonic worldview during restoration suggests the building deep in the heart of Paris ought to remain a ruin, a constant reminder of contemporary Tower of Babel hubris and dysfunctionalism.
    Given the building is requisitioned French state property anyway ‘l’église de France’ should keep a respectable distance from any possible contamination from this état laïc in crisis.

  10. The fact that the govt. ruled out arson before a thorough investigation is revealing – don’t want the citizenry to wake up.
    Personally, I thought it a possibility for an arsonist(s) to take advantage of the scaffolding there, to easily (well maybe not that easily) climb and position oneself near the roof and, I don’t know, throw in a molotov near or around the area in the rook known as a tinder-box hazard.
    AND that the timing on this terrible event was during Holy Week for Christians – how can one not wonder.

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