How Paris firefighters saved relics from the Notre-Dame fire

Today's expression: Short on
Explore more: Lesson #154
May 13, 2019:

In the crucial first moments of the Notre-Dame blaze, the Paris fire department, led by its chaplain Father Jean-Marc Fournier, carried out a well-rehearsed plan to save some of the most priceless artifacts inside the famed cathedral. The Crown of Thorns, believed to have been worn by Jesus during the crucifixion, was among the treasures saved by the firefighters. The famous rose windows (pictured) were also spared. Plus, learn what it means to be "short on" something.

Take control of your English

Use active strategies to finally go from good to great

Listen

  • Learning speed
  • Full speed

Learn

TranscriptYour turn
No translationsEspañol中文FrançaisPortuguês日本語ItalianoDeutschTürkçePolski

Today, the amazing story of how some of Notre-Dame’s priceless relics were saved from the fire

Welcome to Plain English, the podcast that allows you, as English learners, to explore the world using your new language. We go just a little slower so you can understand all the words. My name’s Jeff. JR is the producer. You can find a transcript of this episode, alongside interactive translations into seven languages, at PlainEnglish.com/154.

On today’s episode, the heroes behind the story of Notre-Dame. We all saw the images of the fire that ravaged the cathedral, but while most of the firefighters were battling the blaze, another group was busy saving some of the priceless historical artifacts and paintings that were inside the cathedral. The story is quite remarkable. Later on in the episode, we’ll also talk about what it means to be “short on” something. And since it’s Monday, we’ll close with a quote.

Before we get going, I wanted to remind you about our partner Audible. Your support of Audible helps keep the lights on here at Plain English. If you haven’t tried audiobooks before, you can get a free book with a trial membership at PlainEnglish.com/book .


Relics saved from Notre-Dame cathedral

You all remember the devastating fire that struck Paris’s Notre-Dame cathedral in April. And it has been widely reported that many of the priceless relics inside the cathedral survived the fire. But the story of just how that happened has not been as widely reported, and that is what today’s episode is about.

The fire—I couldn’t believe anything inside survived it. You’ve seen the pictures: the orange flames, the thick smoke, the firefighters spraying water. You may have even seen the pictures from inside the cathedral the day after the fire: ash and destruction everywhere, after the burning spire crashed 300 feet right on top of the altar. And yet some of the cathedral’s most valuable historical relics survived the fire. How did that happen?

There is a lot of credit to go around, but primary credit goes to the Paris firefighters, who were prepared for a fire in Notre-Dame. They had held two training exercises in the past year and were prepared with a strategy to not only fight the fire, but evacuate priceless artifacts in the process.

Over 500 firefighters responded to the fire, and about a hundred of them were dedicated to saving the priceless treasures inside the cathedral. Leading the charge was the chaplain of the Paris fire brigade, Father Jean-Marc Fournier, who insisted on leading the effort to save the relics inside. Under his leadership, the fire brigade could prioritize what artifacts to save.

Father Fournier’s highest priorities were the most irreplaceable and historically significant items. Three pieces were said to have been part of the crucifixion. First, and most significant, the Crown of Thorns, said to have been worn by Jesus during the crucifixion. Second, a piece of wood and a nail that are thought to have been part of the cross on which he died. And then finally the tunic of Saint Louis. In the year 1238, a Byzantine emperor found himself short on cash, and essentially sold the Crown of Thorns to France. As it was transported to Paris, King Louis, now known better as Saint Louis, took off his royal garb, put on a simple tunic—just a simple piece of white fabric—and hand-delivered the Crown of Thorns to Notre-Dame cathedral. All three of these pieces—said to be the most valuable inside Notre-Dame—were successfully evacuated.

There were other obstacles. The objects were not just sitting out, waiting to be rescued. Father Fournier and the other firefighters had to quickly get the keys and the security codes to access areas of Notre-Dame. The Crown of Thorns was locked in a chest. With no time to waste, firefighters broke into the chest by force and carried the crown to the entrance.

Police formed outside the cathedral to watch over the rescued artifacts. But being outside did not mean the pieces were safe from danger. That’s when city workers and church workers formed a human chain to quickly ferry the objects from danger. Most of the saved objects were transferred into the care of Paris’s famous Louvre museum.

Firefighters also had to remove paintings from the walls—no small task. A series known as the Mays, which date back to the 1600s, were offerings from the Paris goldsmiths honoring the Virgin Mary. There was one painting almost every year for 70 years to commemorate the coming of spring; these were saved. They will now have to be dehumidified and restored by the Louvre.

The Bronze Statues of the Twelve Apostles had been atop the cathedral, but they had been removed from the roof for preservation just before the fire. The copper rooster that was on top of the spire also survived.

The grand organ of Notre-Dame also appears to have survived. The organ is made up of 8,000 metal pipes and dates back to the 1730s. It appears to be intact, though time will tell if it suffered any further damage.

The rose windows are perhaps the most recognizable part of Notre-Dame, besides its two towers. The stained-glass, rose-colored windows date back to the Twelfth and Thirteenth Centuries, and these appear to have survived. Firefighters had to carefully balance the priority of putting out the fire with the desire to protect delicate parts of the cathedral, such as the windows, from water damage.

Notre-Dame’s famous bells have been ringing to commemorate moments in French history since 1685. They are safe atop the limestone towers.

As bad as this tragedy was, the Paris firefighters’ preparedness for an event like this was an important reason why the damage wasn’t even greater. They pumped water from the nearby River Seine, controlled the water pressure to limit the damage to the art and architecture, and found the right angles to attack the blaze from the cathedral’s small ledges and balconies. They even used remote-control water canon to reach parts of the cathedral that were too dangerous for firefighters to reach in person. One of the officers at a nearby fire station said, “We know this establishment by heart.”

Father Fournier is no stranger to emergencies. He served as a military chaplain in Afghanistan and comforted victims of the Bataclan theater terrorist attack in 2015.


You know I love it when people listen together, especially couples and families, so I want to send a special hello to Nicolas and Christopher from Saint-Avold, France. Nicolas is a French teacher and Christopher is a pharmacist and they are going to be moving from France to Canada in July, so they’re practicing English ahead of that move. Nicolas said they listen every day and love the topics—so I wanted to make sure to say hi and good luck on your move to Canada. Thanks for being with us Christopher and Nicolas from Saint-Avold, France.

We did it! JR and I both finished the book, “Where’d You Go, Bernadette?” so that means I’ll be looking for a new book in Spanish soon. I’ll read one or two in English, just to give myself a little treat. We both really liked that book. You can buy an electronic copy on Amazon, which is what we did, or you can listen to the audio version, in case you have a long commute in the car or on the train. The reason I think this is a great audiobook is that there are lots of small parts, so it’s always convenient to pause when you get to your destination. You can even slow down the audio right from the Audible app. “Where’d You Go, Bernadette?” and if you’d like to listen to it, you can make that your free audiobook from Audible. Just visit PlainEnglish.com/book , sign up for a free 30 day trial, download your book, and you’re ready to go. If you don’t want to pay after your free trial, just cancel anytime. If you get hooked on audiobooks, a membership to Audible gets you one per month. Either way, your first book is free with a trial membership. All for you at PlainEnglish.com/book

Great stories make learning English fun

Starter feature

We speak your language

Learn English words faster with instant, built-in translations of key words into your language

Starter feature

We speak your language

Learn English words faster with instant, built-in translations of key words into your language

Starter feature

We speak your language

Learn English words faster with instant, built-in translations of key words into your language

Starter feature

We speak your language

Learn English words faster with instant, built-in translations of key words into your language

Starter feature

We speak your language

Learn English words faster with instant, built-in translations of key words into your language

Starter feature

We speak your language

Learn English words faster with instant, built-in translations of key words into your language

Starter feature

We speak your language

Learn English words faster with instant, built-in translations of key words into your language

Starter feature

We speak your language

Learn English words faster with instant, built-in translations of key words into your language

Starter feature

We speak your language

Learn English words faster with instant, built-in translations of key words into your language


Plus+ feature

Practice sharing your opinion

Get involved in this story by sharing your opinion and discussing the topic with others

Expression: Short on