Old video of cathedral blaze falsely linked to protests in France

By: Urva Kapoor
July 10 2023

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Old video of cathedral blaze falsely linked to protests in France


The Verdict False

The video is from July 2020 and shows a fire at the Cathedral of St. Peter and St. Paul in Nantes, reportedly caused by a Rwandan asylum seeker.

Claim ID 147cf693


Even as violent protests in France—sparked by the killing of a 17-year-old boy by a police officer— seem to subside, misinformation around the events refuses to die down. Several old and unrelated videos have been linked to the French protestors online and have often been accompanied by anti-immigrant and Islamophobic narratives. 

One such video showing a devastating fire at the Cathedral of St. Peter and St. Paul in Nantes, France, is being shared on social media with the claim that the historical building was set on fire during the recent civil unrest. One post sharing the video read: "France??... #radicals in France trying to bring peace." Another user shared the video taking a jibe at France's immigration policies and acceptance of migrants, while another insinuated that this was the work of Muslims and said that Indians should wake up and pay close attention to such events.  An archived version of the post can be found here.

However, this incident is from 2020 and has no link to the ongoing protests in France. 

In Fact

Using the InVid tool, we carried out a reverse image search on the keyframes of the video. We came across a report published by Catholic News Agency on July 18, 2020, which carried a photo of the same church surrounded by fire engines, with smoke emanating from its openings. The report stated that a devastating fire had erupted at the Cathedral of St. Peter and St. Paul in Nantes, causing severe damage to its cherished 17th-century organ and exquisite rose window. The incident drew immediate attention, and investigations revealed that the fire was likely a result of arson.

A report by BBC News published on July 19, 2020, carrying similar visuals of the fire as the viral video also provided details about the incident. The report also said that about 100 firefighters were required to control the blaze at the Saint-Pierre-et-Saint-Paul cathedral. The authorities suspected arson and that the fire had been started in three different places. The report added that a Rwandan volunteer had been detained for questioning over the fire and later released without charge.

A report dated July 26, 2020, published by Al Jazeera, said that the same 39-year-old man, an asylum seeker from Rwanda who had lived in France for several years, had confessed to starting the fire. According to the report, Nantes prosecutor Pierre Sennes said that the volunteer had been charged with destruction and damage by fire and faced up to 10 years in prison and 150,000 euros in fines. "He admitted during his first appearance for questioning before the investigating judge that he set three fires in the cathedral: at the main organ, the smaller organ, and the electrical panel," the prosecutor added.

The now-viral visuals of the cathedral were also carried by Sky News on July 19, 2020, in a report headlined, "Nantes cathedral fire: Arson suspected as French firefighters battle blaze." 

We also came across a video of firefighters battling the fire at Nantes Cathedral published by the British news outlet Evening Standard on July 18, 2020. According to the report, the blaze caused severe damage to the cathedral, leading to the evacuation of the surrounding area.

The Verdict

An old video of an incident of arson from July 2020 that led to a massive blaze at the Nantes Cathedral in France has been falsely linked to the recent unrest in the country. The video and the current situation in France are unrelated. Therefore, we mark the claim false.

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Global Fact-Checks Completed

We rely on information to make meaningful decisions that affect our lives, but the nature of the internet means that misinformation reaches more people faster than ever before