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The cathedral of Notre Dame is engulfed in flames. (Image from Anne Hidalgo / Twitter)

Paris’ 850-year old Cathedral of Notre-Dame ravaged by flames, iconic spire and roof collapsed

This morning we woke up to the heartbreaking news that the iconic cathedral of Notre-Dame in Paris was engulfed in a raging fire for hours, just as Holy Week began (the week leading up to Easter, a holy time for Christians worldwide).

The distinct spire and roof of one of France’s most famous landmarks, rivalled only by the Eiffel Tower, collapsed under the flames as it burned for hours on Monday evening in Paris. About 500 fire fighters were dispatched to contain the blaze which ravaged the 850-year old Gothic building which was undergoing massive renovations.

French President Emmanuel cancelled a speech he was scheduled to give about the street protests that have been happening in Paris. Instead he gave an emotional address about the fire at Notre-Dame, describing it as a “terrible tragedy”. He noted that the worst had been avoided as the cathedral’s façade and two main towers survived the fire.

He added that a national donation campaign will be launched, appealing to allies beyond France to help rebuild the iconic structure.

President Macron said, “I’m telling you all tonight — we will rebuild this cathedral together. This is probably part of the French destiny. And we will do it in the next years. Starting tomorrow, a national donation scheme will be started that will extend beyond our border

The fire, which broke out on Monday evening around 6:30pm was finally contained at around 2am Tuesday morning, Paris time. Reports say that mass was being celebrated in the cathedral the fire alarms went off. Attendees were ushered out of the cathedral immediately.

As the fire consumed Notre-Dame’s famous timber constructed roof known as ‘the forest’, crowds gathered outside, praying and singing hymns.

Also destroyed were the wooden interior and some stained glass windows. Deputy Paris Mayor Emmanuel Gregoire said the building had suffered “colossal damages”. While the the extent of loss is yet to be determined, reports say that 16 statues had been removed last week to make way for renovation works. So those most definitely survived this tragedy. Secretary to the interior minister, Laurent Nunez, told reporters at the scene that the firefighters were working to save the works of art within in the cathedral once they contained the fire.

Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo said in a tweet that several priceless artefacts such as the Crown of Thorns, tunic of Saint Louis and several other major works were rescued. There are still countless priceless artefacts and artworks within the cathedral that might have been destroyed.

Fortunately, the cathedral’s main structure – including the two towers and main building – were ‘saved and preserved’ from total destruction, said Jean-Claude Gallet, Fire Brigade commander general. He added that one firefighter has been seriously injured.

As for the cause of the fire, that has yet to be identified. Officials say that it could be linked to the renovation works which were being carried out. The prosecutor’s office in Paris said they have opened an investigation into ‘accidental destruction by fire’.