Image: Firefighters clean up cathedral
Brian Jackson  /  AP
Firefighters help clean up the inside of Holy Name Cathedral in Chicago on Wednesday after an early morning fire severely damaged the attic and left gaping holes in the roof of the landmark structure.
updated 2/5/2009 6:54:48 PM ET 2009-02-05T23:54:48

An electrical problem might have sparked a blaze that tore holes in the roof of Chicago's Holy Name Cathedral, fire officials said Thursday.

Authorities have not determined the exact origin or cause of Wednesday's fire in the 134-year-old church, but Chicago Fire Department spokesman Will Knight said officials had ruled out arson. He said they were focusing on a possible electrical malfunction in a system that keeps ice from building up on the edge of the cathedral's roof.

The flames severely damaged the attic of the Gothic revival-style church and left water damage in the sanctuary. Mass was held Thursday in an adjacent parish center, where dozens of parishioners used plastic and metal chairs for pews and kneeled on the concrete floor.

"It's just a building. The church is made of people. We'll be OK," said Carla Kupe-Arion, 28, who has been coming to the cathedral since 2005. "I was saddened, but in the same breath, I praised God that not more damage has happened."

Church officials have not offered an estimate of the full extent of the damage, but Archdiocese Chancellor Jimmy Lago said he expected the cathedral to be closed for months.

"Chicago has always bounced back from fires," Cardinal Francis George said Wednesday, after surveying damage inside the cathedral, just blocks from a busy shopping district.

The original Holy Name was destroyed in the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. The existing cathedral opened in 1875, and the last major renovation took place in 1968.

A sprinkler system kept Wednesday's flames from the cathedral's extensive wood paneling and ornate decorations, said its pastor, the Rev. Daniel Mayall. Sacramental records of marriages and baptisms were believed to be safe in a fireproof vault.

No injuries were reported from the blaze, but a firefighter suffered a minor back sprain in a fall.

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