Notre Dame beekeeper waits to learn fate of his 18,000 bees

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By Saphora Smith and Richard Engel

PARIS – The beekeeper of Notre Dame Cathedral is in limbo waiting to hear the fate of his 18,000 bees after the devastating fire tore through the church.

Bee keeper of Notre Dame Cathedral Nicolas Geant.Courtesy Nicolas Geant

Nicolas Géant is hoping that the bees, that live in hives on the roof of the sacristy, survived the inferno.

“If you look at the photos from the sky you see that everything is burnt, there are holes in the roof, but you can still see the three bee hives,” Géant told NBC News Wednesday.

The 51-year-old beekeeper – who keeps bees across France and in California – has been unable to check on the colonies since the fire broke out Monday ravaging the world-famous cathedral.

“The policeman and fireman won’t let me go up there,” he said with frustration.

The investigation into the fire continued Wednesday with no more clues as to how the fire broke out. More details as to the extent of the damage inside the cathedral’s magnificent stone walls trickled out, with firefighters warning that there is still a real risk that the building might collapse.

Sixty fire personnel are currently onsite and monitoring for any “hot spots” that could weaken the already ravaged structure, Lt. Col. Gabriel Plus told reporters at a press conference Wednesday.

But there is still no news of the bees.

Géant said he has been flooded with messages from all around the world asking if the insects had survived the fire. “I will try again tomorrow,” he said.

The bee-enthusiast said it had always been his dream to keep bees on the roof of “the most beautiful church in the world” and in 2012 that dream came true.

“There is a historic relationship between bees and the church, for a long time they used the wax from the bees to make the candles,” he explained.

The beekeeper is not the only person connected to Notre Dame who is struggling to move on after the fire destroyed a piece of their life. Olivier De Châlus, the chief tour guide at the cathedral, struggled Wednesday to look at the wreckage without welling up.

“It is my home,” he told NBC News, standing on the banks of the Seine.

“This church is really a friend for me, I know the church as you can know a person – I spent so much time going to look at her and to find all the details that no one ever saw before,” he said.

Châlus, who is also researching a PHD on the medieval construction of Notre Dame, said for seven hours he could not prize his eyes away from the burning cathedral. The next day it took him four hours to muster the courage to walk through the doors and see the damage.

“This church is my life, it’s my parish first, it’s the place I work as a guide,” he said.

Olivier De Chalus, the chief tour guide at the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris.Saphora Smith / NBC News

On walking through the front doors of the cathedral, Châlus said he felt the wind rush up against his back, down the cathedral and through the hole in the roof. “It was like the wind of ruins,” he said.

He noticed that the light had changed because of the gaping hole in the roof and saw water all over the floor which reflected the light from the sky.

“The color of the walls were pale like the face of someone who had just died,” he said.

As evening turned to night on the Left Bank of the Seine, people continued to mill around the cathedral. Some took photos, others sat on café terraces enjoying the mild April air. And on a bridge facing the most damaged end of the cathedral five people sang choral music in tribute to this architectural triumph.

Marc Smith and Jack Losh contributed.


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