Notre Dame Fire: Governments Are Ultimate Underwriters of Heritage Sites

The terrible fire at Notre Dame in Paris highlights how vulnerable a large part of our heritage buildings are to fire damage. But although many stately homes, castles and art galleries carry commercial insurance, when it comes to monuments like St Pauls in London, the Coliseum in Rome or many other UNESCO world heritage sites, the local government has to be the ultimate backstop when things go wrong.

Michael Angell, Church Operations Director at Ecclesiastical Insurance commented:

“It was absolutely heart breaking to see such a beautiful and historically significant Cathedral engulfed in flames. Our thoughts are with the people of France as they come to terms with the damage to such an iconic building.

“As a specialist insurer of churches and historic buildings, we have a wealth of knowledge and expertise in the restoration of these very special and complex buildings and we are looking to provide significant help, advice and practical support to Notre Dame during this difficult time.

“Helping our customers identify and reduce risk is a fundamental part of our business. Our in house risk managers regularly run sessions on fire safety.  In fact, we are currently running a series of specialist fire training sessions with our Cathedral and Greater Church customers across the UK, in addition to the regular risk management advice provided to all our church customers.

“While major fires like this are rare, we have unfortunately seen a number of significant losses in UK churches over the years. In the vast majority, these buildings have been fully restored despite substantial damage.  We hope that this brings some degree of comfort to the people of Paris.”

A spokesperson for SLA Verspierian told AFP Agency today that Notre Dame is – like many other historic French buildings – essentially uninsurable because it is such a unique building and full of priceless artworks.

That said, the question of whether the restoration company was at fault when it comes to the start of the blaze, is one which may result in that company’s insurers picking up at least part of the tab.

FRENCH PRIDE WILL CIRCUMVENT ANY ARGUMENTS OVER L’ADDITION

In any case, it seems likely that restoring Notre Dame will firstly take decades to accomplish, and secondly the French State must ultimately foot the bill when fire or flood strikes and destroys such iconic landmark buildings. Gallic pride is at stake, and there is a great deal of emotion attached to buildings like the Eiffel Tower, The Louvre, La Defense, or Versailles, so the rebuild will cost whatever…and then double it.

Pledged donations of over 300 million euros have also been offered via French businessmen today as well, so that will fund a few years of work at least.

UNESCO PRESS STATEMENT

“We are all heartbroken,” said UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay in front of the devastating fire that ravaged the historic Cathedral of Notre-Dame of Paris last night. The Cathedral is part of the World Heritage site of “Paris, Banks of the Seine” inscribed on the World Heritage List in 1991. The site includes bridges, quays and the banks of the River Seine, along the historical part of its course, between the Sully and Iéna bridges, the Ile de la Cité and the Ile St Louis.

“Notre Dame represents a historically, architecturally, and spiritually, outstanding universal heritage. It is also a monument of literary heritage, a place that is unique in our collective imagination. Heritage of the French but also of humanity as a whole. This drama reminds us of the power of heritage that connects us to one another. We are receiving messages of support from all over the world,” said Ms Azoulay, who immediately went to the site with the French authorities.

The Cathedral is considered to be the finest example of French Gothic architecture, with an innovative use of rib vaults and buttresses, stained glass rosettes and sculpted ornaments. Construction of the church began in 1160 and continued over a century.

The Director-General also announced that a rapid damage assessment would be carried out as soon as possible. “UNESCO stands by France in safeguarding and rehabilitating this invaluable heritage,” she said. “We are already in contact with experts and ready to send an emergency mission to assess the damage, preserve what can be preserved and plan short and medium-term measures,” Ms Azoulay said.

The assessment will be carried out with the authorities concerned, including national and local authorities, site management and Church authorities, in order to develop a plan of action, avoid further deterioration of the site and recover as many original elements as possible. UNESCO will then accompany and support the authorities in their rehabilitation.

 

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