The central spire, roof and much of the interior of Notre Dame Cathedral were obliterated Monday as a catastrophic fire spread within minutes through a building that has stood at the heart of Paris for more than 800 years.
The fire began in the late afternoon, with yellow clouds of smoke billowing into an otherwise perfect blue sky and orange flames assaulting the belfry. As evening began to fall over the city, a gaping hole could be seen where the enormous vaulted roof once had been.
French President Emmanuel Macron tweeted: “Notre-Dame of Paris preyed by the flames. The sorrow of an entire nation. Our thoughts with all Catholics and French people. Like all our compatriots, I’m sad tonight to see this part of ourselves burn.”
Reports in the French press suggested that many of those pieces had already been removed last week during the renovations, and Cathedral spokesman Andre Finot said that the cathedral’s collection of relics and other sacred items, kept in the sacristy, were likely unharmed. “Normally there is no risk of things being burned,” he said.
Flames filled the night sky as an impromptu chorus in the streets below somberly sang “Ave Maria,” some members falling to their knees.
‘So horrible to watch the massive fire at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. Perhaps flying water tankers could be used to put it out. Must act quickly!’ U.S. President Donald Trump wrote on his Twitter handle while en route to Minnesota for an event about taxes.
Later, at his Tax Day event, Trump told a crowd about the ‘terrible, terrible fire. “’The fire that they’re having at the Notre Dame Cathedral is something like few people have witnessed,” the president said.
“When we left the plane, it was burning at a level that you rarely see a fire burn. It’s one of the great treasures of the world”’ Trump continued.
The building, the cornerstone of which was laid in 1163, is the most visited monument in Paris, with more than 12 million people coming each year – nearly double the people who visit Eiffel Tower. Its intricate stone gargoyles, spires, stained glass and flying buttresses make it one of the great masterpieces of architecture.
The cathedral has been under renovation, and officials said they were considering the blaze an accident relating to construction. No deaths or injuries have yet been reported.