Paris – A far-right writer and activist shot himself dead in front of the altar of Paris’s famed Notre Dame Cathedral yesterday, leaving statements denouncing gay marriage and immigration.
Police confirmed the man’s identity as Dominique Venner, (78) an essayist and activist linked with France’s far-right and nationalist group.
They said he had shot himself with a pistol and that the cathedral, which at the time contained about 1 500 people, was then evacuated without incident.
Venner left a message, which was read out by a friend after his death on the conservative station Radio Courtoisie, and a final essay on his website.
They denounced both the recently passed law legalising gay marriage and immigration from Africa.
“I believe it is necessary to sacrifice myself to break with the lethargy that is overwhelming us,” he said in the message read out on the radio.
“I am killing myself to awaken slumbering consciences.”
Venner’s suicide was hailed by Marine Le Pen, leader of the far-right Front National (FN), as a political gesture.
“All respect to Dominique Venner whose final, eminently political act was to try to wake up the people of France,” Le Pen said on Twitter, though she added later that “it is in life and hope that France will renew and save itself”.
Cathedral rector Monsignor Patrick Jacquin told AFP Venner had laid a letter on the altar before killing himself. A police source said the letter contained similar writings to those on Venner’s website.
“We did not know him, he was not a regular at the cathedral,” Jacquin said, adding he believed it was the first time anyone had committed suicide inside the cathedral.
Jacquin said masses had been cancelled and church officials would hold a vigil later on Tuesday.
“We will pray for this man, as for so many others at their end,” he said. “This is terrible, we are thinking of him and his family.”
In a final essay on his website, Venner railed against France’s adoption of a “vile law” legalising gay marriage and adoption.
It finally became law on Saturday after months of bitter political protests from the right.
Venner also denounced immigration from north Africa which, he said, was the real “peril”, calling on activists to take measures to protect “French and European identities”.
In what appeared to be a reference to his suicide, Venner wrote: “There will certainly need to be new, spectacular, symbolic gestures to shake off the sleepiness... and re-awaken the memories of our origins.”
“We are reaching a time when words must be backed up with acts,” he added.