A church volunteer has told police he was responsible for an arson attack that badly damaged a 15th-century Gothic cathedral in western France.

The Rwandan refugee, 39, had previously been questioned and then released following the blaze at the Cathedral of St Peter and St Paul in Nantes on July 18.

It destroyed the organ, shattered stained glass windows, and blackened the insides of the church.

When the man was detained again this weekend for further questioning, he finally admitted responsibility for the fire, said his lawyer, Quentin Chabert.

French media quoted the Nantes prosecutor as saying the man, who had been tasked with the job of locking up the cathedral, told the investigating magistrate that he lit three fires – on two cathedral organs and an electrical box. 

He has now been charged over the incident. 

‘He confessed to the allegations against him which, as the prosecutor indicated, are causing destruction and damage by fire,’ Chabert told France Info radio.

‘He regrets the facts. That is certain. He is in a sort of repentance.’

His motives are unknown.

The blaze, which was dealt with by around 100 firefighters, brought back memories of the devastating fire in Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris last year.

French President Emmanuel Macron said at the time: ‘After Notre-Dame, the Saint-Pierre-et-Saint-Paul cathedral, in the heart of Nantes, is in flames. Support for our firefighters who take all risks to save this Gothic jewel of the city.’

Nantes mayor Johanna Rolland added: ‘It is a part of our history, a part of our heritage.

‘We all have these images in mind, this story in our hearts, but at this stage the situation does not seem to be comparable to that of 1972.’

The reports quoted the prosecutor as saying that the arson charge is punishable by a 10-year jail term.

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