Iraq Banner Desktop

Store Banner Mobile

Jean-Marc Fournier is chaplain of the Paris Fire Brigade.

Heroic Priest Saved Ancient Crown of Thorns from The Flames of Hell

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

As the flames of every disaster fade, stories emerge about heroes and this is again the case in Paris where a brave French priest not only attended to the wounded after the Notre-Dame cathedral fire, but he saved the ‘Blessed Sacrament and the Crown of Thorns’ when he fearlessly entered the inferno.

Jean-Marc Fournier, chaplain of the Paris Fire Brigade, stood watching as the 800-year-old religious super-structure bellowed smoke into the Paris skies and began fearing that both priceless religious artifacts would be lost to the raging flames.

Etienne Loraillere, an editor for France’s KTO Catholic television network, reported that “Fournier went with the firefighters into Notre Dame Cathedral to save the Crown of Thorns and the Blessed Sacrament”.

Jean-Marc Fournier, chaplain of the Paris Fire Brigade was afraid relics would be lost in the fire. (YouTube Screenshot)

Jean-Marc Fournier, chaplain of the Paris Fire Brigade was afraid relics would be lost in the fire. (YouTube Screenshot)

But Father Fournier is no first-time hero, quite the opposite. In his 50s he became a Catholic priest in Germany before moving to the Sarthe department of France. Having joined the Armed Forces diocese in 2004 he spent seven years working all over the world and it was in Paris on 13 November 2015, that his inner hero first shone through.

After Islamic State terrorists murdered 89 people using guns and explosives he bravely entered the Bataclan music venue and “Prayed over the dead and comforted those who were injured or had lost loved ones,” according to an article on Sky News.

Saving The Holy Relics of Christ

Father Fournier rescued the legendary 'Crown of Thorns’ which according to three of the Gospels was placed on the head of Jesus during the events leading up to his crucifixion. But how did such a relic ever get from Jerusalem to France? In 1238, King Baldwin II, the Latin Emperor of Constantinople, was rallying support for his flagging empire and he offered the crown of thorns to Louis IX, King of France, who naturally accepted and stored in away in a gold chest in the cathedral's treasury.

Jean-Marc Fournier, rescued the ‘Crown of Thorns’ from the Notre Dame cathedral fire. (YouTube ScreenShot)

The second holy relic saved by Father Fournier was the ‘Blessed Sacrament’ - a devotional name given to the body and blood of Christ as consecrated bread and wine stored in another golden container. According to Fox News, among the other historic treasures not affected by the flames “Include the Rose windows, three round glass windows dating back to the 13th century.“

Relics. Are They Worth Dying For?

Father Fournier risked his life to save a relic ‘believed’ to have actually touched the head of Jesus Christ, a claim which has always carried with it an air of controversy as scores of other claimants believe they have the original crown. According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, “Authorities are agreed that a sort of helmet of thorns must have been plaited by the Roman soldiers, this band of rushes being employed to hold the thorns together.”

According to Catholic scholar M. De Mély, with regard to the origin of the thorns, he believes they must have come from “the bush botanically known as Ziziphus spina-christi, more popularly, the jujube tree,” found in abundance by the waysides around Jerusalem, which is armed with pairs of thorns.

In 1561, the Parochial Church of Wevelgem claimed to have “a portion of the crown of thorns” and in Germany, Bishops in the Cathedral of Trier also claim to have a thorn. Italy is the biggest claimant with Santa Croce in Gerusalemme having two thorns, Santa Prassede in Rome having a small part of the crown; Pisa has a branch from the crown as do Naples and Ariano Irpino Cathedral.

Spanish Bishops contest the French and Italian ‘crowns’ because Oviedo Cathedral have five thorns and Barcelona Cathedral also has a thorn, as does Seville Cathedral. Moving into northern Europe, in the United Kingdom both Stonyhurst College in Lancashire and Stanbrook Abbey in Worcester boast having thorns and the British Museum have the “Holy Thorn Reliquary”. Even St. Anthony's Chapel in Pittsburgh, USA has a thorn.

Holy Thorn Reliquary. (Johnbod / CC BY-SA 4.0)

Holy Thorn Reliquary. (Johnbod / CC BY-SA 4.0)

The New Battle Of Beliefs

It is a fact that if all the thorns and branches from all the “crowns of thorns” were gathered together, one would have enough wood to build Noah's ark. And let’s be honest, they can’t all be real, which is a problem for the church because it means that many of its leaders aren’t being altogether truthful. Now, a cynical writer would criticize Father Fournier for having risked his life for what appears to be ‘just another’ set of relics that were touted by the medieval church to attract pilgrims. But if this is the case, ironically, then he is much, much braver than anyone is giving him credit for. Why?

Firefighters from the Paris Fire Brigade. (YouTube ScreenShot)

Firefighters from the Paris Fire Brigade. (YouTube ScreenShot)

His ‘belief’ and faith caused him to enter a towering inferno risking his own life to recover what could be called ‘suspect’ relics. But that is his ‘true hero’ right there. You might rush into a burning house to save a child, or climb into a crashed car to free trapped people, but would you follow your ‘beliefs’ into a burning Cathedral? No, not many of us would, and therefore Father Fournier is a Christian Saint in the making - a mortal man who was prepared to die for his faith.

Top image: Jean-Marc Fournier is chaplain of the Paris Fire Brigade. Source: YouTube Screenshot.

By Ashley Cowie

ashley cowie's picture


Ashley is a Scottish historian, author, and documentary filmmaker presenting original perspectives on historical problems in accessible and exciting ways.

He was raised in Wick, a small fishing village in the county of Caithness on the north east coast of... Read More

Next article