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CUOMO PRIME TIME

Massive Fire Engulfs Beloved Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris; Paris Vows to Rebuild After Notre Dame Burns; Centuries of History Destroyed in Notre Dame Inferno. Aired 9-10p ET

Aired April 15, 2019 - 21:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[21:00:00] REP. TOM SUOZZI (D-NY): You know, they're - a one page, a one sentence explanation is not sufficient.

He wants to see to getting all - of course, it's a very complicated matter here with the President having over 500 different entities that are all flowing up through these holding corporations, and he wants to see the extent to which they're conducting this examination or if they're conducting this examination of the President's returns.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR, ANDERSON COOPER 360: Congressman, I appreciate your time. We'll continue to watch this. Thank you.

SUOZZI: Anderson, thank you very much.

COOPER: All right, the news continues. Want to hand it over to Chris for CUOMO PRIME TIME. Chris?

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR, CUOMO PRIME TIME: All right, thank you, Anderson. I am Chris Cuomo and welcome to PRIME TIME.

It's 3:00 A.M. in Paris where Notre Dame de Paris, Our Lady of Paris sits ravaged by fire. 13 million a year come to her. One of the most recognizable symbols of Christianity, an aspirational symbol really that withstood centuries, but this may be her biggest test.

We have new info on what happened and when and how. But the story is really about what happens next. And I think it matters more than anything else that we're waiting on later this week or arguing about in the moment. There's much to be said understood and done.

So, what do you say? Let's get after it.

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TEXT: CUOMO PRIME TIME.

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(CROWD PRAYING)

(END VIDEO CLIP) CUOMO: It's in Paris, obviously. But those aren't just Parisians. It's a Catholic place of worship, obviously, but those aren't just Catholics singing. This is something that affects people the world over, 856 years of history and so much more up in flames.

All over the world, hearts are broken, lovers of the arts and architecture, people with memories of awe-inspiring images and, of course, there are the believers, Christians, especially Catholics, starting the most important week of the year, rebirth and renewal, the ritual of loss and redemption are now literally being tried by fire.

This is the image. The spire of this magnificent Cathedral consumed by what looked like hellfire, a powerful, painful image, one so many will never forget.

And yet, it could have been worse. One firefighter was seriously hurt. We're told that 400 were battling. These are very difficult conditions. We're going to learn more about that tonight, how hard this challenge was.

Thank God more people weren't hurt. Thank God we're not talking about this measuring it in terms of human cost. That place is a crucible of stone acting as an oven, really for all inside. We're lucky it wasn't Palm Sunday that there wasn't a mass or a massive tour going on at the same time. So, here's where things stand.

The source of the inferno is unknown. It could be linked to renovation work to fix the Cathedral's historic stone walls and buttresses. That would not be unusual. It's a very common experience in this. But it's under investigation, so we don't know.

The location matters. Our Lady sits on an island in the historic heart of Paris in the middle of the Seine River.

First reports of smoke and flame, just before 6:00 P.M. local time.

People kept commenting, you're going to hear this, on what seemed like an interminable delay. Where were the sirens? Where were the people coming? Where was the help?

That Island has few bridges. They're not wide. This was rush hour. Boats can get there. They can pump water. But they can't get that close that quickly. And so, after the evacuation of the last tour group, there was an empty desperation of waiting during which time the 315-foot spire collapsed around 7:59 P.M.

The flames grew into an inferno. Why? We have to talk about that tonight. Was the fire just isolated on the top or was it feeding its way up, fed by all the wood and the air in the nave?

N-A-V-E, that's the main part of the church before the altar. And then, it would make the fire feeding on that air feed up towards surrounding scaffolding in a wood sub-ceiling. That is just, you know, food for flames.

The Fire Chief said there was concern of collapse because without the roof, even stone walls can fall. And if they fell out, there could have been a different order of magnitude in terms of damage.

Would the bells fall? Would they take the towers with them? The questions were echoing all across the world. But then, the flames started to lower, and we saw these lights that I want to show you.

This was the only relief that I had that day. Wasn't these fire engines up in one of the towers of where the bells are, there were little white lights all the sudden, and we knew the firefighters who had now reached there, so the flames were gone.

They were able to walk up there. That meant there was some integrity to it, that maybe the bells wouldn't fall and take the towers with them. We know that teams managed to salvage an unknown quantity of precious relics.

But the main ones we heard were secreted to a - a safe location. Now, what is believed to be parts of Jesus' Crown of Thorns, part of his actual Cross, you know, these are heavy, heavy items for Catholics and Christians.

[21:05:00] Now, we know that stuff is safe, and the Mayor tweeted that tonight, and I know it's not just stuff, but I'm saying in terms of this could have been human cost, what we worried about most in terms of things seemed to be OK.

The twin bell towers, first constructed in the 13th Century, they were recently replaced, 2013, I think.

You know, this made this Cathedral the tallest structure in Paris until the completion of the Eiffel Tower in the late 19th Century. So, for many hundreds of years, this was it.

After World War I, Notre Dame's bells rang loud and also for the liberation of Paris after World War II in 1944. She's been there for so much history. And so many sought solace within her walls during that war and beyond.

In more recent times, after the deadly attacks on Charlie Hebdo and the Bataclan in 2015, the bells rang out again, and masses gathered for prayer. And I was there among others, many of whom were not believers.

This is more than a Cathedral. It's more than a symbol for the religious. It's more than another museum in Europe. This place matters as an aspirational symbol of beauty and the devotion to something bigger than ourselves.

And this fire happened at a time that those she means the most to need her most. So, there is a lot to discuss about the past, what happened today and our future.

Let's bring in an Associate Professor of Fire Science at John Jay College here in New York, Glenn Corbett. Professor, always a pleasure.

GLENN CORBETT, ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR OF FIRE SCIENCE, JOHN JAY COLLEGE, FIRE ENGINEERING MAGAZINE'S TECHNICAL EDITOR: Chris, thanks for having me.

CUOMO: Thank you very much. Look, we get the significance measured so many ways. But I want to help people understand well how did this got rushed through in the moment.

CORBETT: Sure, sure.

CUOMO: Why this happened?

CORBETT: Sure.

CUOMO: Now, when we look at this, obviously, there was an intensity of what's going on in here.

CORBETT: Right.

CUOMO: I explained it a little bit for the uninitiated.

CORBETT: Yes, yes.

CUOMO: Stone on the outside seems so significant.

CORBETT: Right.

CUOMO: But on the inside--

CORBETT: Right.

CUOMO: --hollow with a ton of air and--

CORBETT: Right.

CUOMO: --old wood.

CORBETT: Right.

CUOMO: What does that mean to fire science?

CORBETT: Right. So, from a firefighting perspective, this is pretty much a classic church fire, 19th Century all the way back to when this was built, 500, 600 years earlier, stone walls, wooden roof structure, so the fuel load, of course, is up at the top of the building basically.

And the key thing here that we see, of course, is that there was probably renovation work going on, which just--

CUOMO: Scaffolding.

CORBETT: Right. Which means that that's a, you know, really a potential reason why this has happened today. Of course, we have to do a complete investigation. We have to make sure that, you know intentional acts weren't here or even accidental cigarettes, things like that.

But we've had numerous fires in churches over the years, and they all result - they all come out basically this way because the fuel load is way up in the air and the firefighters can't get to it quickly. And, of course, again, it's all wood.

CUOMO: And there's a ton of air in what they call--

CORBETT: Right.

CUOMO: --the nave.

CORBETT: Right.

CUOMO: So, it feeds the flames up.

CORBETT: Right.

CUOMO: This coming through this roof, our understanding was that this was metal, and there is stone. It can burn through that.

CORBETT: On top.

CUOMO: Also.

CORBETT: Yes. It's the wood deck that's underneath and also the wood structure. So the supporting--

CUOMO: So they could burn right through stone--

CORBETT: Yes.

CUOMO: --right through metal.

CORBETT: Right. Actually, when I say it's burning through, it's just basically displacing. I mean all the - the support system is falling away.

CUOMO: Burning (ph). All right, so now, the spire.

CORBETT: Right.

CUOMO: This is the iconic thing.

CORBETT: Right.

CUOMO: Literally, it was the physical manifestation of the aspiration of something--

CORBETT: Right.

CUOMO: --better above us. And in the foreground here, we see the bell towers, OK? So, if I can bring this in a little bit.

CORBETT: Right.

CUOMO: This is where the bells are.

CORBETT: Right. CUOMO: This is where we saw some smoke and fire.

CORBETT: Right.

CUOMO: But we also saw the firefighters.

CORBETT: Right.

CUOMO: The configuration of this, significant or it's what you deal with in these situations of architecture?

CORBETT: Well, again, a spire, I mean, spires are also typically framed to wood on the inside, so that's where you saw that go down basically.

CUOMO: So, that's why this, although it was stone--

CORBETT: Right, right.

CUOMO: --and when this fell--

CORBETT: Right.

CUOMO: --it's the supporting structure--

CORBETT: It's the structure underneath.

CUOMO: --and who knows what was--

CORBETT: Right.

CUOMO: --done by the renovation work.

CORBETT: Right, exactly, exactly. And in retrospect, of course, this fire - we never want a fire like this to occur.

But in retrospect, the failure of the roof system actually did help the firefighters tonight because that literally brought the fire much closer to - to ground level, basically, and also cut down the amount of radiant heat. That's the heat you feel like from a fireplace, things like that--

CUOMO: Yes.

CORBETT: --into the bell towers basically because then the embers, of course, that are being generated as well.

CUOMO: So, well one of your guys - one of the Deputy Chiefs here in the city said, you know, you can't fight that from the inside.

CORBETT: No.

CUOMO: That stone makes it a crucible--

CORBETT: Right.

CUOMO: --to an over in the air.

CORBETT: Right.

CUOMO: The smoke, there's not enough ventilation, you can't go inside that you have to fight it from the outside. True?

CORBETT: Yes. And the fact is that you've got a building with no roof on it. Now, the stability of those walls is really in question.

CUOMO: Even stone?

CORBETT: Yes, yes. I mean 200-feet high, so.

CUOMO: And so, on the outside, you see the impressive metal, and the stone, and then, you know--

CORBETT: Right.

CUOMO: --but this is the inside.

CORBETT: Right.

CUOMO: And this is what you're talking about.

CORBETT: That's the fuel load. That's the fuel load there, yes.

CUOMO: So, it's going to burn and then pop through. This is one of the famous--

CORBETT: Rose.

CUOMO: --Rose windows that they have there. There're several in this. And they were worried about that getting blown out, you know, it's fragile glass, didn't happen.

CORBETT: Right.

CUOMO: Thank God for that. All right, so now inside, again, we can move people around in this. This is really what I want them to focus on.

CORBETT: Yes. Up the ceiling--

[21:10:00] CUOMO: This is the nave. The beautiful--

CORBETT: Right.

CUOMO: --architecture that is supposed to be--

CORBETT: Right.

CUOMO: --so inspirational.

CORBETT: Right.

CUOMO: But what does it mean from thermodynamics and firefighting? CORBETT: Right. So, what you're seeing here is - is probably something like plaster on - on the underside of the roof, basically. You're looking at the bottom side of the roof up toward--

CUOMO: Right.

CORBETT: --up in the air, basically.

And so, behind that, of course, is in all likelihood what we just saw in that earlier image is a sort of triangular attic space, if you want to call it that, but it's, you know, an area in which a fire could be occurring, and you can't get to it. That's the problem. It's behind all this.

CUOMO: Right. And--

CORBETT: And it - sorry.

CUOMO: --this will all feed itself up too, right, because this is all air. It's all wood--

CORBETT: Right.

CUOMO: --and stuff that can just be kindling--

CORBETT: Right, right.

CUOMO: --for fire.

CORBETT: Right.

CUOMO: And even with all the stone you think it's going to be impregnable but it's far from it.

CORBETT: Yes, right.

CUOMO: Now, another, the geolocation situation here--

CORBETT: Right.

CUOMO: --is also relevant.

CORBETT: Right.

CUOMO: This place is situated in almost like in a mini Manhattan--

CORBETT: Right.

CUOMO: --within Paris, except where we have the Eastern Hudson Rivers, this is the River Seine that goes around it.

CORBETT: Right.

CUOMO: These are not, you know, huge flow bridges, you know--

CORBETT: Right. CUOMO: --they're not even like the ones that are farther up.

CORBETT: Right.

CUOMO: That's going to create a huge problem, especially during rush hour, in terms of getting there.

CORBETT: Right, right, exactly. And getting not only, you know, people leaving, but also the - of course, the fire apparatus trying to get to the scene basically.

CUOMO: Right. And we were talking about the water ships but even the ones that can get in there over time--

CORBETT: Right.

CUOMO: --that's not a great vantage to be fighting this fire--

CORBETT: No.

CUOMO: --on the top, it's from there.

CORBETT: Accessibility here's a major problem.

CUOMO: Right. Smoke is also an issue.

CORBETT: Right.

CUOMO: Is the color relevant to you or is it just reflective of material?

CORBETT: Well it's material. So, people mentioned black earlier on. Those are usually hydrocarbon-based type of combustible things. The traditional brown smoke and stuff, that's wood basically burning there. So--

CUOMO: Nothing unusual to you in that?

CORBETT: No. No. But one thing we should point out here though too is that that plume of smoke is - is - also contains a lot of embers, large embers, chunks of burning wood.

And that's always a big an issue - big issue with these buildings is that these embers can drop on buildings blocks away basically.

CUOMO: True. One of the good things about it being in an island--

CORBETT: Right.

CUOMO: --but not completely isolated.

CORBETT: Right.

CUOMO: The bells.

CORBETT: Right. CUOMO: There was fear--

CORBETT: Right.

CUOMO: --here that if--

CORBETT: Right.

CUOMO: --this burned around them and they fell--

CORBETT: Right.

CUOMO: --that it was almost like what we learned on - during 9/11 of the exoskeleton--

CORBETT: Right. Right.

CUOMO: --you know, of this thing that--

CORBETT: Right.

CUOMO: --what happens on the inside will affect the outside.

CORBETT: Right.

CUOMO: Legit concern?

CORBETT: Yes. I mean you could see it's a wood frame structure in here. So, they had firefighters in there. We - you mentioned earlier, we could see them working inside here.

CUOMO: Right.

CORBETT: The fact that the roof of the main sanctuary went down--

CUOMO: Yes. They see all in the top here. Keep going, Professor.

CORBETT: Right. They - the main sanctuary roof went down. That did help them here because it literally moved the fire from up where they were--

CUOMO: Right.

CORBETT: --down to the other cut (ph).

CUOMO: But this was the fear.

CORBETT: This is the fear. Once this catches--

CUOMO: And what I feel we got lucky--

CORBETT: --there were--

CUOMO: --there was fire in there.

CORBETT: No, there was. And then you had guys with hose lines in there and stuff protecting this. And - and the - and the - in retrospect, they will have saved pretty much the rest of this building, right.

CUOMO: They're going to have some stories of heroism.

CORBETT: Right.

CUOMO: Because just let people know at home what are you dealing with if you're inside--

CORBETT: Right.

CUOMO: --this stone--

CORBETT: Right.

CUOMO: --tower--

CORBETT: Structure, right.

CUOMO: --that's surrounded by wood--

CORBETT: Right.

CUOMO: --and fire coming from the bottom feeding up.

CORBETT: Yes, and radiant heat at you here from the flames. And also, embers are probably flying through every opening in the wall there.

CUOMO: So, this is about as bad as it gets for these guys.

CORBETT: Yes, yes, it's--

CUOMO: And they were able to put it out.

CORBETT: Yes.

CUOMO: Look, there's a fire extinguisher right there.

CORBETT: Yes.

CUOMO: Not enough for this kind of job. Now, outside--

CORBETT: Yes.

CUOMO: --this was preserved.

CORBETT: Right.

CUOMO: And did we get lucky or this is just hard to take down because it's mostly stone?

CORBETT: Well, again, there's wood structure inside of that as well. And I guess from - from, this is, I would imagine, you would agree, this is the more iconic vision--

CUOMO: Yes.

CORBETT: --of the church and things so.

CUOMO: Yes.

CORBETT: The fact that that's still there is luck - luckily is because the fire is actually at the - on the opposite side of the building.

CUOMO: Right.

CORBETT: So and the tower was in between.

CUOMO: But it really did tear through well (ph).

CORBETT: It did. It did. And it - look, how quickly it moved?

CUOMO: Yes.

CORBETT: People understand that it moves very quickly.

CUOMO: Now, they talked about some, you know, the - the fear of delays. But I think--

CORBETT: Yes.

CUOMO: --it's largely logistical in terms of how could - they could get there--

CORBETT: Right.

CUOMO: --based on the reporting. Now, here's some of the - the hose work they were doing.

CORBETT: Right.

CUOMO: That was really the best you could do. You had to fight it from the outside as long--

CORBETT: Right.

CUOMO: --as you could, right?

CORBETT: There's no way to go up inside to fight this. As the Chief mentioned early, you don't want to put people in there. You're certainly not going to use a scaffolding that's there right now because that's already been compromised. That's another collapse potential tonight actually--

CUOMO: Yes, right.

CORBETT: --is that scaffold.

CUOMO: And now, you and I here - are not here to talk about politics.

CORBETT: Right, right.

CUOMO: A lot of people were making this suggestion--

CORBETT: Right, right.

CUOMO: --which is where are the choppers? I brought it up on live television today--

CORBETT: Right, right, right.

CUOMO: --because we think about that.

CORBETT: Right.

CUOMO: And I, you know, well the air restrictions around Paris, not in an emergency situation.

CORBETT: Right, right.

CUOMO: The - the French authorities said just to address one thing and get it out of the way--

CORBETT: Right, right.

CUOMO: --we have the capabilities. We fight forest fires--

CORBETT: Yes, yes.

CUOMO: --all the time.

CORBETT: Right.

CUOMO: We're not doing this because we're worried about--

CORBETT: Yes.

CUOMO: --putting that much water--

CORBETT: Yes.

CUOMO: --inside this structure right now. We're afraid--

CORBETT: Right.

CUOMO: --it may make it worse structurally for the walls. Does that square with you?

CORBETT: Yes. Because, you know, if it's a fixed-wing aircraft, there's no - there's no plane pilot that could drop it exactly in that one spot, moving 700 miles an hour over it. If you're talking about helicopters, one of the issues you got too here is that that thermal updraft, that's a chimney effectively.

CUOMO: Yes.

CORBETT: You can't fly a helicopter in hot air basically. That's another problem they have to deal with. And then--

CUOMO: Why? Because the air is thin?

CORBETT: It's so thin it would cut--

CUOMO: And the rotors need to cut through air to stay up--

CORBETT: Right, right, right.

CUOMO: --and it can't stay up.

CORBETT: Right, exactly. So, that's another issue here too. And I - I think they realized that they could probably do more damage than not--

CUOMO: Right.

CORBETT: --with this, so.

[21:15:00] CUOMO: Right, and again, it's not about the President, not today. He actually said the right thing.

He recognized this as a tragedy, said the work was going to slow down within the White House, what they were talking about, because all eyes were on this. But a lot of people were talking about that, and it was not a factor today.

CORBETT: Right, right.

CUOMO: If anything, it might have made it worse.

CORBETT: Right.

CUOMO: Professor, thank you so much--

CORBETT: Thanks, Chris. Appreciate it.

CUOMO: --for helping make this stuff more understandable. And thank God we're not measuring it in terms of human loss--

CORBETT: Right, exactly.

CUOMO: --not this time.

CORBETT: We can rebuild it.

CUOMO: Thank you very much.

CORBETT: Yes, right, thank you.

CUOMO: All right, so, again, look, this - this is heavy. It's all so heavy because of the significance.

You almost can't process this as just a simple reality. This is the week a billion Catholics, including your flawed friend here speaking to you right now, this is deeply personal.

In fact, I was surprised by how hard this hit me. And it hit me with an immediate question. What happens now?

The Vatican is shocked and saddened about the disaster. What will the Pope do especially at the end of this week? Is there an opportunity in this? Father Edward Beck has his take on what the loss means and the challenge it presents, especially this week.

And, later on, there is much more to this building than what you see. One of the reasons the loss is so heavy is the history that has happened within these walls. When you hear what she's been through and what she's been a part of over the centuries, you'll get the gravity of the situation.

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CUOMO: Let's take it some live pictures here.

They're still fighting the fire, you know, and it's still dangerous because fires reignite all the time. I can't wait to hear the stories of the firefighters that made it into those bell towers and put that fire out in the conditions that they were in.

I mean that's going to be amazing. Look, the worst hopefully is over. The physical loss is great and remarkable.

The spiritual significance though also looms large, especially now, right at the start of Holy Week, obviously, it ends Easter Sunday. This was the main meeting place in Paris for Catholics at this time of year, many rites and rituals throughout the week, not just Sunday.

So, what is the loss? How far does it resonate? And what are the challenges going forward?

One of my best friends, one of the people I would - I don't know who else I would want to lean on in a moment like this for an understanding and a perspective than Father Edward Beck.

Father, always a pleasure, good to see you.

FATHER EDWARD BECK, CNN RELIGION COMMENTATOR: Hey - hey, you too, Mo. I'm - so I'm - I'm not there on set with you.

CUOMO: Listen, it's just good to have you. So, look the art--

BECK: Thanks.

[21:20:00] CUOMO: --and the architecture, so many people, no matter what they believe, 13 million a year came to see this, twice as many as the Eiffel Tower. We get all that. We get the - the historical nature of this.

But for this week, what sense do you make of this at the beginning of Holy Week to have this happen to one of the most magnificent Christian symbols?

BECK: Well, first of all, Mo, you have been there with your wife and kids. I've been there. We've seen those windows. We've heard that magnificent Organ.

CUOMO: Oh. BECK: We've heard those bells tolled. I mean for us, a people of faith, you walk in there. It's not just a tourist attraction. It's a place of prayer. It's a place we went to be lifted up.

So, we just celebrated yesterday Passion Palm Sunday. You mentioned the Crown of Thorns being one of the relics. That symbol of the passion in this Cathedral and that kind of is a parenthesis to the end of this week.

As we move toward Holy Week, it's so ironic to me, and you know this.

When we come to the vigil on Holy Saturday night in all churches around the world, Catholic churches, they will light a fire, except the symbol of that fire on Holy Saturday night, and I think we're all going to be thinking about Notre Dame Cathedral that night, but the symbol is that there's light in the darkness.

It's the light of Christ to come into our darkness. Now, that's a very different kind of fire than we have seen today. But I can help hold on to that message that for Christians and people of faith, it is about death, but new life. It is about hope.

President Macron said it today. He said, "We will rebuild." Well for Christians, it's another way of saying that we will persevere. There is resurrection. There is new life.

CUOMO: People come to you all the time wanting you to explain horrible things. This will be yet another. Why does this happen at this time when we need to be going there the most and to bring people together the most and this is when we lose her?

BECK: Well, Mo, I think it's interesting. You know, France has struggled of late with religion and its own Christianity. The churches are not very full in France.

And yet, during the terrorist attacks, you know, you were there, people gathered for silence outside there, and it became a symbol of something. So, even for non-believers, I think they gather there, and they may question why would this happen?

But doesn't it cause us to reflect on what is it that drew people to this beautiful place? What were they looking for? It wasn't just to take pictures of flying buttresses. I mean there was something about being lifted up one spirit that this is, as you said, it's more than us. It's higher than us.

And I think it's a time to say, "Nothing lasts." It took centuries to build. And I don't know how long it's going to take to rebuild. But it will. Nothing is permanent. And yet, God is there in the midst of it.

From those ashes, like the Phoenix, something will rise, and it will bring people together in a very significant way, as tragedy always does. So, I don't know. I feel like God is in the midst of it somehow even in the pain and destruction.

CUOMO: Well, thank God, we're not measuring this in terms of human loss. That is one solace. We know a firefighter was hurt. We don't have any other reports yet.

I was shocked by that, Father, because to fight in the conditions that they were fighting in, mostly from the outside, but to get into those bell towers, and fight, that is some of the most daunting and dangerous circumstances for a firefighter, and I can't believe they did it with such success here.

So now what? So the Vatican says, obviously, they're upset about this. Why wouldn't they be? Is there an opportunity in this? Do you think there's any chance that Pope Francis goes to Paris for Easter Mass and leaves the Vatican?

BECK: I would say that's probably not going to happen. Just think of the security concerns, trying to put that together between now and Easter. I mean would the Pope want to do it? I would think, yes.

Remember, this is the Pope that doesn't want to ride in the Popemobile, doesn't care about security and all that. But the people around him do. So, I don't think that will happen, but you can be sure that he will be talking about this tragedy, Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday.

When he lights that Easter fire on Holy Saturday night, I think what a wonderful opportunity to say that fire isn't just about destruction. It's about light in the darkness. It's about the light of Christ.

[21:25:00] And you know you mentioned the firefighters. As you know, my father was a firefighter. He went into many fires, and he had many stories about it. And my hearts are with those firefighters too because I know what my father endured, and I know how important it was to him to be part of this.

And I think that's the real message right here. They're brave people who are trying to save something that matters to people, and that's the sense of hope I have that people are willing to--

CUOMO: And risking their lives.

BECK: --do that for the sake of something else. Exactly.

CUOMO: And we're watching them right now, up in there--

BECK: Yes.

CUOMO: From the worst of situations life can bring, we see the best in us in response to it.

BECK: Exactly.

CUOMO: That is often true. Father Beck, you make everything better. Thank God for you and thank you for being in my life and helping the audience tonight.

BECK: God bless you this week.

CUOMO: I need it. Be well. BECK: You do.

CUOMO: All right as we watch this - hear him say, "Yes, you do."

As we watch this awful scene, and the battle that is ongoing, you know, again, look, you have to believe the worst is over right now, but tell that to the men, and maybe women, who are in that building right now going through things that are still really hot that can spark at any moment.

All right, saving what is left, good. Think about this. Roughly twice the number of people visit this place every year as they do the nearby Eiffel Tower, all right?

This is its significance, much more than a religious shrine, much more than a tourist attraction, and so needed right now. This took centuries to build in terms of lore, not just the structure.

And it is a unique story that matters, and really will open your eyes to what this creates as a vulnerability and maybe an opportunity, I'll share that next.

[21:30:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CUOMO: For hours, in Paris, crowds gathered to mourn the loss of the Notre Dame de Paris. We all know what she looks like. We all know what she means. She's called Our Lady, right? Notre Dame is just the French language of that.

And she has this special Island. And even though she is situated there, and this is her resident country, she means so much to so many. The history matters.

First stone laid in 1163, Pope Alexander The Third. This took nearly 200 years to complete, and it would wind up being a symbol of human potential the world over. 856 years she's been there centered at key moments in history.

It's where Henry The Sixth of England was made King. It's ransacked and damaged in the French Revolution of the 1700s, was largely rebuilt after Napoleon took the Crown from the hands of the Pope there in 1804.

A century later, France's heroine Joan of Arc was beatified there. 1945, U.S. troops filled the place at a Memorial Service for FDR. Even those who haven't seen her in person know it by lore and legend.

Writer Victor Hugo immortalized the Cathedral. The novel that we all try and get our kids to understand in one way or the another, The Hunchback Of Notre Dame, fictional bell ringer, took refuge in the church's roof.

The book galvanized a major restoration project of the church in the 1800s. There was actually talk of taking her down.

Now, in recent years, she's fallen into disrepair. People from all over the world continue to visit the architecture, the art, the significance. It's carve-outs of saints and prophets, gargoyles, gothic jewel, but also a place of pilgrimage and prayer.

It's open every day for mass. It's a sanctuary for some of the most coveted relics in the Christian faith. And it's not just that they are kept. But this is the week, the one time of the year, Holy Week, when the church would unveil these venerated relics to remind believers of the significance of what they're about to relive.

That Crown of Thorns, that piece of what is believed to be part of the Wooden Cross that Jesus was crucified on, that's heavy stuff for believers.

We're told by the Mayor there that some of the relics and sacred statues were removed during the restoration. We actually don't know that anything was lost and they all be safe.

Raises heavy questions, right? Why such a tragedy? Why now? Does everything really happen for a reason? Blessing from tragedy, it's tough to understand, harder for most of us to accept.

And yet, tonight, even in the midst of mourning, France's President vowed, "We're going to rebuild it, and we're going to do it together." Maybe that city will come closer together from this. It can certainly use that. In fact, we all could.

Now, to understand what was lost, I'm going to bring in an expert in Medieval Studies to show you what she's meant to the culture beyond Christianity.

And as President - France's President vows, it will be rebuilt, but it won't be quick, and there'll be a lot of challenges before that. Next.

[21:35:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CUOMO: Literally, people all over the world watched and wept today, Notre Dame Cathedral engulfed in flames, some screaming as the spire fell.

Nicholas Paul knows just how woven this Cathedral is into the fabric of France's history, but really meaning without within the world. He leads the Center for Medieval Studies at Fordham University.

Professor, thank you for taking the time.

NICHOLAS PAUL, DIRECTOR, CENTER FOR MEDIEVAL STUDIES, FORDHAM UNIVERSITY: Thanks for having me on, Chris.

CUOMO: And, look, no reason for us to avoid the obvious.

There was somewhat of a feeling of reminiscence of seeing these two big towers, you know, at the front of the Cathedral, fire engulfing them, the spire which was the signature part of it falling into the flames, the gasps, you know, there is a reminder of what we lived through here on 9/11. Thank God we're not measuring this tragedy in human cost, but it's real, and we should deal with it because it was part of what resonates, yes?

PAUL: Absolutely. Well I mean you're talking about two iconic buildings, two buildings completely symbolic of the cities that they're - they are in, as you said, really woven into the cities, so it's hard to avoid that kind of comparison, I think, for Americans watching it, especially watching it on TV.

CUOMO: Now, Our Lady of Paris is meaningful to the entire world. Why? Is it just art and architecture or through time has there been an accrued significance?

PAUL: Well there's so much to say there. I mean in some ways we have to just talk about the symbolism of Notre Dame's. Notre Dame is symbolic of France, it's symbolic of Paris, but it's also, I think, symbolic for a lot of people of what the Middle Ages mean, of the medieval world.

That was certainly the case as they were restoring Notre Dame in the 19th Century, as you were talking about, there was an attempt to try and capture the character of the Medieval City and really put it on display in - in the Cathedral.

But, you know, if we look back at the Middle Ages, and we really follow the story forward, it's remarkable how to think about how what a story it was that unfolded in the shadow of that building.

So, the - the philosophers who - who debated there, you know, in the streets outside of - as the Church was being built, the School of Music that was based in Notre Dame where polyphony first entered the Western musical tradition at the Cathedral School of - of Notre Dame.

CUOMO: It's heavy stuff.

PAUL: It is.

CUOMO: And the irony that something that has withstood so much, it's had its up and downs, it's been ransacked, but nothing ever like this. And--

PAUL: It doesn't appear that - that way, no.

CUOMO: It might be taken out by a construction fire. You know, there's an irony in that that just what teaches us that everything is vulnerable, no matter how much it's withstood.

[21:40:00] PAUL: It certainly does. It's also reminiscent, of course, of what happened to many, if not, most medieval churches and cathedrals caught fire--

CUOMO: Right.

PAUL: --at one time or another under different kinds of circumstances. So, this kind of fire gutting the building that would have actually

been something that medieval communities, it would have been traumatic to them, but it would not have been uncommon. Maybe we've become too comfortable with the idea of the safety of these buildings.

CUOMO: Is it true that Victor Hugo was part of an effort that really was about an existential crisis for this church that they believed that that part of the city needed to be reclaimed and completely redone, including taking her down?

PAUL: Yes. And well the - the - the, as you know, there was this Restoration Movement that surrounded after he had really centered the Cathedral in the city and its literature, the Restoration Movement which was responsible for most of the famous gargoyles that you see on Notre Dame, which I think a lot of people go up and look at them, and say--

CUOMO: Yes.

PAUL: --"Oh, look at these medieval sculptures." But in fact they're - they're representative of the 19th Century really.

CUOMO: Why'd they add them then?

PAUL: I think it was to make it even more medieval or to really capture what they thought of as being this - the medieval character of the building.

CUOMO: It worked. They - they always get me--

PAUL: Right.

CUOMO: --when I see them. And they certainly--

PAUL: They certainly got me the first time around.

CUOMO: --draw the eye of people.

Why do you think - Eiffel Tower, there's almost nothing like it. I mean you talk about something iconic, the word has been beaten today, you know, there's no - I was going to not say it at all in this show, that one slipped out.

Twice as many people go to see the Cathedral--

PAUL: Yes.

CUOMO: --as that Tower, why?

PAUL: It's interesting.

And if you even think about it in terms of other Cathedral, famous Cathedrals in France or other famous religious buildings, the Sainte- Chapelle with which it shares the Ile de la Cite or the - or the Chartres Cathedral, it has this iconic status, and not because it's somehow superior to those buildings, in terms of architecture, are more important, but more, I think, just because of its nature at the center of the city, and part of the city's story, and it was always there.

CUOMO: Now, you're a medieval expert. But if you had to pick one or two events that happened in or around this Cathedral that you believe separated in significance, what would you pick?

PAUL: Well, for my own money, I have my own preferences. But one of them, as I mentioned, was this - this School of Music that developed there at the end of the 12th Century.

It really symbolized what was happening in France and what was happening in Paris more generally as a - as an intellectual center, as a place where the so-called Renaissance of the 12th Century was getting started that really became the heart of medieval civilization.

That was - that was happening at - at Notre Dame. The other - yes, sorry.

CUOMO: Yes, no, I'm just saying, and it was also relevant for the history buffs out there. It was cross purposes because one of the threats to that Movement was the Church.

PAUL: Right.

CUOMO: And yet, here, in one of its signature events, there was something being given protection that was vulnerable even from the influence of the Vatican.

PAUL: Right. And - and the other thing I would say was, you mentioned the Crown of Thorns, which - which we don't know exactly what's happened with that relic now.

But the story of the Crown of Thorns intersects with the Cathedral in an interesting way. When the King of France, Louis The Ninth first acquired the relic in 1238, he intended to build a new building for it, the Sainte-Chapelle next door nearby.

But while that - that building is under construction, this is where he placed it. This is where he put it at the center of his city and, you know, with his people, which I think was an important symbolic moment in his building up of France and building up of Paris.

CUOMO: Especially this week of all times, you know--

PAUL: Yes.

CUOMO: --it really makes you think about the significance of this place and the significance beyond its art and architecture to what it just means in terms of our evolution such as it is in very precarious times.

Professor, thank you for letting people know this place matters.

PAUL: Thank you.

CUOMO: And it will hopefully continue to do so.

PAUL: Thank you, Chris.

CUOMO: Be well, appreciate it.

All right, the significance of what we witnessed today shouldn't be underestimated. You know, there aren't a lot of moments that bring the world together.

Don Lemon has some personal thoughts to share about the Cathedral and what today meant when we come back.

[21:45:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CUOMO: If you go to Paris, you visit Notre Dame, you just do. It's one of the most popular spots there. People from all over the world come. One of the most visited landmarks in the world.

Let's bring in D. Lemon. Don, you've been there

DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR, CNN TONIGHT WITH DON LEMON: Yes.

CUOMO: You know what week this is for Catholics. You know the theme, rebirth and renewal. How do you put it all together?

LEMON: I was sad watching it. And it feels like people lost a member of their family. That's - at least that's what they tell me. I mean I had the same reaction, as you, obviously.

You're a Catholic. I'm not. I went to Catholic school. And we talked about Notre Dame all the time. We studied it. And I went to - I haven't been to Notre Dame, probably since the 90s, although I was - the last time I was in Paris was in 2016. You definitely see it. It's beautiful.

But you cannot put the loss - I don't think there's a way to put it into context, as I was trying to explain to people, this is a work of art. It's one of the great wonders of the world.

It goes beyond Catholicism and the Church. It is simply a work of art that is beautiful that moves people in certain ways, in positive ways and it - that we need, especially now, in this world.

CUOMO: Yes. You know, one of the - the terms that they'll use in the world of faith is ecumenical that this is universal. If people believe in Christ, great. If they don't, it doesn't really matter.

After the Bataclan and the Charlie Hebdo attacks, those bells rang, people went there--

LEMON: Yes. Listen--

CUOMO: --and just for solace and reminder that there's also beauty in this world.

LEMON: Listen, what you just said it - but - I said - again, this goes beyond religion. Even if you - let's just say you're not a believer--

CUOMO: Yes, fine.

LEMON: --when you were in that, you know, it - it'll force you to believe.

But also, if you look at the architecture, just being inside the architecture and seeing, you know, the - the Organ and just, you know, the roof, which is a force, just being inside of something that is just so monumental and so beautiful.

I mean if you - if you did - if you don't appreciate what it means to people of faith, then you have to appreciate what it means to people who love and admire architecture. It's just amazing.

CUOMO: Oh, yes. I mean, look, you know, these aren't just Catholics that go to visit this place, obviously.

LEMON: Yes.

CUOMO: You know, it was interesting. I had Father Beck on. And he sees in this a reaffirmation of the purpose of this week and of the call of rebirth and renewal.

[21:50:00] As you know, your flawed friend here, I am - I lean on faith because of weakness. And, for me, when I was processing this today other than the, you know, the parallels to 9/11, I haven't had anything shake me like this since then of watching something happen.

Of course, thank God, we didn't have to worry about human loss today like we did then. But it's an interesting message to make sense of.

LEMON: Yes.

CUOMO: The beginning of Holy Week, time of rebirth and renewal, we lose something that mattered so much at this time of year.

LEMON: Yes. It is--

CUOMO: It's tough to make sense of it.

LEMON: It is a building. They will try to replace it. But there - there's a lot that's irreplaceable there.

Listen, I hate to make this hard turn but we--

CUOMO: Do it, Bud. What do you have tonight?

LEMON: You know, you - because you're focused so much on Notre Dame as well as you should, I am going to focus a little bit more on what's happening with the Mueller report coming out.

We have John Pistole on, who worked with the Special Counsel. He says the story is really going to be in the redactions. And the next part of this story will be trying to get information, at least Democrats trying to get information about the redactions, and get people to un- redact it.

So, that's where this story is going. As we know, it's - it's going to be released on Thursday, so we're going to take you forward to tell you what to look for, and what the next big story coming out of the Mueller report will be.

CUOMO: Good. Get after it, my friend.

LEMON: See you.

CUOMO: I'll check back with you in a little bit.

I mean, look, it's the right move. We dedicated the whole show to this tonight because I think it matters. We all know what's going to happen later this week. We know about the arguments we're having over whatever the President says and the taxes. That stuff all matters.

But something like this today only happens once. And, especially this week, I just don't think you can escape the meaning behind of it, whatever you want it to mean, that - that's my point.

So, why speculate about what's going to happen when we have something so real that just happened now, especially when I got my brothers and sisters here at CNN that are giving you all that other stuff? So, our hour's on this.

And my closing argument is about what I worry most about today, and what I'm most hopeful about going forward, next.

[21:55:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CUOMO: What is lost is so obvious, and it went in the worst way.

The heavy stone and towering ceilings worked like a massive oven in Notre Dame, cooking everything inside, feeding on old wood and all that air, the air supplied by the massive arches, and what's called the nave, nave from the Latin, for the word ship.

Why? Because the top resembles a keel or a belly of a ship upside down, sometimes ships were even located there. Some say it's a reminder of the ark.

Whatever it is about, today, it worked against us. Thank God no one was in there and that we believe some of the most sacred things were saved.

But so much loss, such imagery, that I can't not process the imagery through the lens of spiritual significance, especially now, this week, Holy Week.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

(NOTRE DAME CATHEDRAL'S SPIRE FALLS)

(END VIDEO CLIP) CUOMO: This place stood as virtue and was consumed by flames. The spire going sent gasps as you heard outside the Church, and gasps within those who witnessed it.

The metaphor is searing as the image. The highest point, the symbol of aspiration succumbing. And yes, it reminded me of the Twin Towers. I witnessed that up close.

Not since has anything bothered me as this did today. Thank God, the worry was not anchored this time by the realization that so many have been lost to evil. Thank God that should never happen again.

But there was something at stake here that is also fragile. I'm one of the lucky ones who got to be in that Cathedral more than once, a flawed believer to be sure. I went there to pray for my own and others.

I went there after the terror attacks. People gathered, whether they believed or not, just to be reminded that there's strength in community and there is something other than evil and terror. There is beauty. There is peace.

Now I worry about that need feeding it. And so, I get what is gone. But I am consumed by what remains. Paris, France, everywhere, there's a shortage of beauty to feed on these days.

There's discord in great supply, especially there, where Our Lady stands, barely, but really everywhere. Let's be honest.

Victor Hugo's famous book, the one that shaped so many of our young lives, has a telling passage in The Hunchback Of Notre Dame. Listen to this.

"He therefore turned to mankind only with regret - regret. His Cathedral was enough for him. It was peopled with marble figures of kings, saints and bishops who at least did not laugh in his face and looked at him with only tranquility and benevolence."

This is not just another church in Europe. Our Lady, Notre Dame, that's the French for Our Lady, a mother, comfort and concrete in stone, respite from realities.

For centuries, she reminded us there was something better if you sought it, in yourself, maybe in others, that no matter what had your head down, there was something beautiful above, just look, and in there, you could almost see it.

12 million a year, twice as many as those who go to the Eiffel Tower for what? The comfort of beauty, the significance of her longevity, and in that duration, confirmation of the durability of her promise, come here and remember there is something better. How do we remind of that now, this week, Christians reliving Jesus'

last days? We call his crucifixion as passion, a nod to seeing the suffering as a function of something worth suffering for. I hope this is a moment that makes people reinforce Our Lady's legacy. Will the Pope come to Paris? Probably not. It's too soon. Say mass in front of Notre Dame on Easter Sunday? Wow, what a message that would send that what matters survives. Rebirth and renewal is the Easter promise beyond what can be built but by what can be fed in ourselves and others.

So, in the French President's call to rebuild Her together, I hope they remember that that means far more than money and materials in time. And it can begin right away. No better time for that than this week.

Thank you for watching. CNN Tonight With D. Lemon starts right now.