Worst Church Fires in History

worst church fire

Over the years, the church has been serving as an iconic symbol of spirituality. And beyond that, it’s something we grew up with. Everyone was shocked after the Cathedral of Notre Dome went ablaze. But many churches have burned before for sinister reasons like arson. Here are the worst church fires in history.

Grue church fire

Grue Church fire occurred in 1922 during service and killed 113 people. To date, it remains the deadliest fire disaster in Norway. The church was located in Skulstad, close to the river Glomma. But what surprised many is that an old woman had prophesied the church would go down either by water or fire.

The church was made of wood and was built using the Stave method. Above the nave, there were two transepts wide galleries that could accommodate 700 people. And the transepts had the entrance doors swung inwards.

The interior was built of pine tar while the windows were placed high above the walls. It’s believed that the 17 tons of tar were applied before the fire occurred.

Before the church fire, there were about 700 people who had attended the service – including babies waiting for baptism. But as the vicar came to the end of the sermon, there was a loud voice through the wall. With the three doors opened inward, there was confusion and panic as people tried to escape.

Some fell, and others jumped from the galleries. Among the dead were:

  • 39 children under the age of 15
  • 69 women
  • Eight to ten men

Traditionally, unmarried men used to sit on a separate side (close to the south door) and were able to escape. The Vicar also managed to escape through he was badly burnt by the melting glass.

In June, the deceased were buried close to the church altar. Although the cause of the fire was never discovered, one theory states it occurred as a result of burning candles.

Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris

On 15th April 2019, smoke was seen billowing from the roof of the cathedral. As the church fire spread, the flames reached the roof destroying the oak beams before toppling the spire.

However, the stone vaults survived the fire thanks to medieval building techniques – it’s also a modern miracle. While every Parisian may have been heartbroken by this fire, there was some hope of rebuilding the church.

The fire began at 18.30 and reached the roof within minutes. It destroyed the wooden interior and stained glass windows.

It took about 4 hours for the firefighters to contain it. And they had one goal in mind – to prevent the bell tower from collapsing. As part of extensive renovation, the 16 copper statutes had to be removed. The deputy Paris mayor stated that the iconic building suffered colossal damages, and the team was working to restore the cathedral artwork.

How did the people react? Thousands of residents gathered to the street to watch the inferno in desperation. While visiting the scene, the president said that the fire was fought with professionalism.

A few facts about Notre Dame Cathedral:

  • The roof was mostly made of wood
  • Several statues were removed for renovation
  • A UNESCO heritage was built in the 13th Century
  • The church receives 13 million people per year

St. John’s Anglican Church, Canada

On the Halloween of 2005, St. John’s Anglican Church went into flames. After investigation, the case was believed to be arson although they could not make any leads of the suspect.

Before the church fire destroyed everything, firefighters did what they could to rescue the remains. But due to the raging inferno, they could not get inside the doors. Nevertheless, they managed to put off the fire. The church was later rebuilt like the old one.

Church of the Company fire

The church of the company fire is without a doubt the largest fire to have ever occurred in the city of Santiago, Chile. It happened in 1863 where more than 3000 people died when an oil lamp ignited the veils on the walls. The church fire spread fast due to the flawed design of the doors. The priests quickly retreated, and all escaped unharmed.

Fantoft Stave Church, Norway

On 6th June 1992, Fantoft Stave Church was destroyed by arson. At first, it was believed the fire was caused by lightning or electrical failure, but Varg Vikernes was found to be behind the church fire. After interrogation, Vikernes stated that he was part of a church-burning campaign as part of the war on Christianity.

After reconstruction in 1997, the original crucifix was restored, which survived the fire. While this was no longer a designated historical building, the old church style was restored.

Holmenkollen Chapel, Norway

Holmenkollen Chapel was built in 1903 in the Southern part of the country. In 1913, it was dedicated to church ceremonies like confirmation, baptism, funerals, and marriage.

But in 1992, the church was destroyed by fire. The police concluded that the church fire was a result of an electrical system fault. But it was later concluded Varg Vikernes was responsible. He was later sentenced to 21 years – the longest prison sentence possible. Varg was released from prison in 2009.

The chapel was built with inspiration through massive planks and pin walls. The arches are built with spruce roots using handicraft techniques. To facilitate the construction, the designers came up with a three-dimensional model. Apart from the church, there’s a complex that contains a meeting and assembly hall.

Macedonia Baptist Church

Macedonia Baptist Church was located in South Carolina. In 1994, the Christians set up headquarters to manipulate the welfare system. In 1995, Gary Christopher Cox and Timothy Adron Welch poured gasoline on the floor of the church and then set it on fire. The then president of the US (Bill Clinton) pledged federal help to investigate the church fire. But because the crime violated civil rights, it was investigated by the FBI.

On June 16th, Cox and Welch were apprehended in connection with the assault. The two were charged with first-degree arson with intent to kill.

During the initial trial, there were two other accomplices (Hubert Rowell and Arthur Haley) were indicted on several charges like violating civil rights and the Macedonian Baptist Church fire. All four pleaded guilty and received a prison sentence from 12-21 years.

The Macedonian Baptist Church was destroyed.

San Francisco de Borja Church

In 2019, The San Francisco de Borja church was torched by thousands of demonstrators gathered in central Chile demanding greater equality. The afternoon hours were followed by looting, vandalism, and violence.

According to the local press, the firefighters managed to contain the inferno. On one night of unrest, dozens of metro stations were set including, supermarkets and bus stop.

Apart from the church fire, there were cases of vandalism as prestigious items were stolen. In a UN report, the protestors accused the police of employing anti-riot weapons. Another statement released by bishops said that democracies should feel free to express terror.

Macedonia Church of God

Macedonia Church of God was burned in 1995. The fire damaged everything to the ground and injured a firefighter. Initially, the case was believed to be a result of an electrical fault but was later concluded as arson. It’s believed the blaze did over $20,000 worth of damage.

The State Law Enforcement Division questioned the persons of interest. According to the police, a 27-yar old man was linked to the incident. Unfortunately, the structure burned until nothing was left. Both the FBI and ATF determined the cause of the fire and linked the incident to Michael Jacques.

After the church fire case was concluded, the bishop of the Macedonia Church of God said that the work to rebuild the church had started.

Medieval Norfolk Church

The church fire broke early morning, and the church was damaged 100%. While the firefighters saved the historical documents, they could not salvage anything else. Surprisingly, the bell tower still stands today.

While the investigating authority could not explain the cause of the church fire, it was later linked to the arsenal. It was no frustrating for the Wimbotsham parish councilor because his mother was buried in the church. And that’s why this church was important to the village. The locals tried to put off the fire, but they could not save a lot.

St. Mary’s Church London

The St. Mary’s Church London is arguably one of the biggest church fires in recent history. In 1973, a man set the church on fire. The foundation of the church was built in the early 1900s but was later given modern housing like air conditioning, etc.

The building was built to withstand fire and remains the poorest choice of church arson. This church was out of operation for about a decade, but it was restored to its former glory. While the starting of the church fire was pretty dumb, failing twice was a big mistake.

Emanuel African Methodist Church

Founded in 1817, the Emanuel African Methodist Church is among the oldest in Southern United States churches before the war. Among the oldest congregations is Mother Emanuel but also welcomed blacks from other churches. The congregation was also made of African Americans from churches like:

  • African Methodist Episcopal Church
  • Methodist Episcopal churches

In 1818, the church was raided, which led to the arrest of 40 worshippers. But they were sentenced and punished according to the law. This doesn’t stop the blacks from intimidating the black parishioners. In 1820, the white members of the community denied worshippers the right of worship. The church was finally burned down, and 35 of its members were executed.

In 1891, the church was rebuilt, and that’s where it stands today. But as if this horror wasn’t enough, there was another unfortunate event in 2015. A 21-year old committed a massacre and executed nine people at gunpoint – this was worse than church fire. He was captured and sentenced to death.

St. Andrew Hubbard

During the 1666 great fire of London, St. Andrew Hubbard was one of the churches that were affected. According to the parish clerks, the church fire damaged everything to the ground. The church was originally built in 1291 but after it was brought down, it was never rebuilt.

The excavations done in 1936 revealed that the church was founded on a former Roman site.

Holy Trinity the Less

The roots of the Holy Trinity the Less church date back to 1266. In 1606, the church was subsequently demolished but was later rebuilt. In 1871, the church was destroyed by the Great Fire of London. It was demolished to pave the way to an underground station.

Apostle Santiago Church

On March 7, 2121, the Apostle Santiago Church went up into flames. While the church fire was contained before the damage was done, it destroyed the walls.

Built by Spanish Spanish missionaries, this church was home to more than 5000 people. Also, the wooden beams littered the ground. Before the fire spread to major areas, the firefighters managed to save a copy of the paintings.

Since the church was part of a hospital complex, tourists have had a tough time exploring the area. Fortunately, the rest of the ensemble survives.

St. Ann Blackfriars

St. Ann Blackfriars was one of the churches that were destroyed due to the Great Fire of London in 1666. Although the church was refounded by Cawarden, it later collapsed. While no repairs were done after the church fire, the two portions of the graveyard remained open until 1849 – one in the church entry. One of the Ancient Monuments is the nineteenth-century Vestry Hall.

Two Catholic Churches, Chile

According to officials, the fire began as peaceful gatherings but unrest broke on one side of the city. It was after the protestors started to vandalize the national capital, Santiago.

The videos posted on social media showed people vandalizing the church before it burned to the ground. But one church fire that caught many by surprise was St. Francis Borgia Church. This was a contrast as other groups demonstrated peacefully.

When the firemen approached the area, they were attacked with stones. And they had to back off until the area was clear. The dramatic images circulated all over the world. Many people were shocked after watching a video of falling frames and one attacking women.

This news came after the Catholic Church received a lot of criticism, especially on sexual grounds. Also, the pope had appointed a bishop who was believed to cover cases of sexual assault.

It was supposed to be a friendly visit but turned to be chaos. Although the police managed to subdue the protestors, the neighboring cities encouraged street protests.


Because of these horrific church fires as well as other catastrophic fires many positive changes happened with fire safety. We now have an entire industry of fire protection consultant to make sure churches as well as any buildings are safe from fire.