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Notre-Dame Cathedral evacuated after suicide

Police officers stand guard in front of Notre-Dame Cathedral on Tuesday (AP Photo/Thibault Camus)

Notre-Dame Cathedral was evacuated on Tuesday after a historian shot himself dead in front of the main altar in what is believed to have been a protest against gay marriage.

Dominique Venner, 78, who was known in France for his Right-wing political essays, killed himself in front of the altar on Tuesday at 4pm.

He had a letter on him but said nothing before committing the act. But a note posted on his blog on May 21 criticised a law passed by the socialist government last week changing the definition of marriage.

Cathedral rector Mgr Patrick Jacquin said: “It’s unfortunate, it’s dramatic, it’s shocking.”

It was the second recent suicide to take place at a famous Paris landmark recently, after a 50-year-old man shot himself dead near the Eiffel Tower in front of primary school children last week.

Mr Venner, who was awarded a prize by the prestigious l’Académie Française for one of his historical works, was a former member of the paramilitary Organisation de l’Armée Secrète (OAS). He was jailed for 18 months as a political undesirable for his role in the ultra-nationalist organisation and was freed in 1962.

Notre-Dame has become a battleground for those fighting over gay marriage, with demonstrations regularly held around it. Mr Venner was known to be angry about the socialist government’s plans, saying that a “law steeped in infamy, once voted, can always be voided”.

There have been a number of suicides at the cathedral, which is visited by 13 million people every year, the last 10 years ago, but most of them have been people who jumped from the towers.