Paris (CNN)A catastrophic fire engulfed Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris on Monday, altering the city’s skyline and threatening a potent symbol of Catholicism at the start of Holy Week.
The fire burned for several hours, destroying the 850-year-old cathedral’s iconic spire and roof before firefighters contained the blaze early Tuesday morning.
A pair of bell towers immortalized in Victor Hugo’s tale „The Hunchback of Notre Dame“ survived, along with the cathedral’s elaborate stonework facade. Officials said invaluable artifacts were saved, including the Crown of Thorns, believed to be a relic of the passion of Christ.
President Emmanuel Macron lamented the destruction of an awe-inspiring building that embodied the heart of Paris for more than 800 years. But he pledged to rebuild, starting with the launch of an international fundraising campaign.
„Notre Dame is our history, it’s our literature, it’s our imagery. It’s the place where we live our greatest moments, from wars to pandemics to liberations,“ he said.
„This history is ours. And it burns. It burns and I know the sadness so many of our fellow French feel.“
At least one firefighter injured
The Paris prosecutor opened an investigation into the fire, the cause of which is still unknown.
The initial call to emergency services notified authorities of a fire in the attic of the cathedral, Paris Fire Brigade Commander General Jean-Claude Gallet said. The site was undergoing renovations and was surrounded by scaffolding.
Hundreds of firefighters were deployed to the scene, snarled by rush hour traffic.
For much of the afternoon, flames and plumes of smoke billowed from the cathedral as firefighters in cranes sprayed water onto the structure.
One firefighter was seriously injured, Gallet said.
The fire, just days before Easter, was met with horror by Parisians and tourists.
As firefighters battled the blaze, Parisians gathered outside the church Monday night, raising their voices in prayer.
Thibaud Binétruy, who lives in Paris, said he saw the smoke while walking home. He was gripped by the sight of the falling spire, he said.
People reacted with audible gasps, but „most of them were just shocked silently,“ he said.
„It’s awful to see such a symbol disappearing in front of you. It’s been there for so many years and in a few minutes half of it disappeared … crazy.
„Paris without Notre Dame, madness.“