For a member of the royal family, who spends a large part of his or her professional life in and around any number of historic structures, many of them places of worship, the Notre-Dame fire might hit particularly hard. On Tuesday, both the Queen and Prince Charles issued their condolences in statements that a British news outlet referred to as “rare emotional messages” from the senior royals, who do not often get so personal or heartfelt in their reactions to such events.
The Queen sent a message to French President Emmanuel Macron, which she signed “Elizabeth R”: “Prince Philip and I have been deeply saddened to see the images of the fire which has engulfed Notre-Dame Cathedral. I extend my sincere admiration to the emergency services who have risked their lives to try to save this important national monument. My thoughts and prayers are with those who worship at the Cathedral and all of France at this difficult time.”
And Prince Charles issued his own message, in which he referenced the Windsor Castle fire that took place 27 years ago and used the sort of language one would not usually associate with a release from his office.
“My wife and I were utterly heartbroken to learn of the terrible fire at Notre-Dame Cathedral this evening and wanted to let you know immediately how much we are thinking of yourself and the French people at this most agonizing of times, and of the emergency services who are so bravely tackling the blaze.” He continued, “I realize only too well what a truly special significance the Cathedral holds at the heart of your nation; but also for us all outside France it represents one of the greatest architectural achievements of Western Civilization. It is a treasure for all mankind and, as such, to witness its destruction in this most dreadful conflagration is a shattering tragedy, the unbearable pain of which we all share.”
He concluded, “Cher Monsieur le Président, our hearts go out to you and the people of France more than you can ever know, especially in view of our experience with the devastating fire at Windsor Castle twenty-seven years ago. We send you our most profound sympathy, however inadequate that may be.” Charles signed off in French: “Très cordialement à vous.”
The Windsor Castle fire, which happened in 1992, “raged for nine hours and wrecked large parts of the structure,” according to The New York Times; it took more than five years for the castle to be restored. Partly in response to the fire, renovations to Buckingham Palace were announced in 2016, as the British government assessed there was a “serious risk of fire, flood, and damage.” The cost was estimated at the time to be $456 million for what was predicted to be a 10-year project. The report noted that the electrical wiring at the palace was in the “high-risk category,” with some systems more than 60 years old.
The Monday blaze left Notre-Dame partially destroyed, with the roof and main spire completely lost; the central stone structure was able to be saved. Macron said Monday evening, “We will rebuild this cathedral all together, and it’s undoubtedly part of the French destiny and the project we will have for the coming years. . . . That’s what the French expect, because that’s what our history deserves.”