Dominique Venner, 78, walked into Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris at 4pm on Tuesday and shot himself through the mouth after posting a rant against France’s recent legalization of gay marriage, which he called vile.
Venner, a far right activist and historian, left a letter before committing suicide, but its contents and his motives are still unknown. However, Marine Le Pen, head of the far-right Front National, said his death was an “eminently political” gesture.
Earlier that day, Venner had written on his blog that more radical action was needed to oppose same-sex marriage in France and had urged people to join a rally against it this Sunday.
Some students and a teacher from a private school witnessed Venner’s suicide and are being treated by psychologists. The rest of Notre Dame’s 1,500 visitors were quickly evacuated. Monsignor Patrick Jacquin, the Cathedral’s rector, told The Guardian this was the first suicide in decades at the 850-year-old cathedral, which is visited by some 13 million people each year.
Last month, France became the 14th nation to legalize gay marriage, though it has been a contentious and highly divisive issue involving demonstrations, protests and occasional violence. The first gay marriage is scheduled to take place in Montpellier on 29 May between Vincent Autin, 40, who works in the tourist office, and Bruno Boileau, 30, a public sector employee.