Far-right activist Dominique Venner, commits suicide in Notre Dame

Historian Dominique Venner shoots himself dead at the altar of famous Paris cathedral

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 22 May, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 22 May, 2013, 4:28am

Police evacuated Paris' Notre Dame cathedral yesterday after a well-known far-right former activist committed suicide by shooting himself through his mouth in front of its main altar, a police source said.

Dominique Venner, 78, a historian known in France for his political essays, was carrying a letter but did not say anything before he shot himself dead in the mid-afternoon, the source said.

Venner, who had recently been campaigning against gay marriage in France, is said to have calmly walked past crowds milling around the 850-year-old cathedral, one of the most popular tourist sites in the world, before taking out a Herstal automatic pistol.

The cathedral was full of visitors when the horrific incident took place at around 4pm.

"There was screaming and lots of shouting following a loud bang," said one witness.

"People were naturally very scared and began to run out in panic."

A note posted on his blog dated May 21 slammed a law passed by the Socialist government last week allowing same-sex marriage. It is the first suicide in decades at the landmark site, Monsignor Patrick Jacquin said.

"It's unfortunate, it's dramatic, it's shocking," Jacquin said. The motives for the suicide, and the contents of the letter, were unclear.

Police, the Paris prosecutor and church employees gathered inside the cathedral, which is visited by 13 million people from around the world every year, while puzzled tourists crowded outside on the island in the Seine River that has been home to the cathedral since the 12th century.

Jacquin said a few people had committed suicide by jumping from Notre Dame's twin towers, but he had no knowledge of anyone ever committing suicide on the altar. The Eiffel Tower occasionally shuts down because of suicides or attempts to jump off its ledges.

Associated Press, Reuters, Agence France-Presse