Priceless relics saved, first photos after Notre Dame Cathedral fire emerge

PARIS — Photos from inside Notre Dame Cathedral have been released after a massive blaze tore through the treasured Parisian landmark Monday.

Flames and smoke are seen as the interior of the Notre-Dame Cathedral continues to burn on April 15, 2019, in the French capital Paris. – A huge fire swept through the roof of the famed Notre-Dame Cathedral in central Paris on April 15, 2019, sending flames and huge clouds of grey smoke billowing into the sky. The flames and smoke plumed from the spire and roof of the gothic cathedral, visited by millions of people a year. A spokesman for the cathedral told AFP that the wooden structure supporting the roof was being gutted by the blaze. (Photo by PHILIPPE WOJAZER/AFP/Getty Images)

The stunning images show flames and smoke visible from inside the cathedral’s iconic architecture.

Parisians raised their voices in song Monday night outside Notre Dame Cathedral as firefighters battled the massive blaze threatening one of France’s most revered historic sites.

The fire burned for several hours Monday, causing the collapse of the cathedral’s iconic spire and the destruction of its roof structure, which dated back to the 13th century.

Consumed by flames, the spire leaned to one side and fell onto the burning roof as horrified onlookers watched.

By late Monday night, the fire had weakened and the cathedral’s two towers were safe, said Laurent Nunez, secretary to the interior minister.

French President Emmanuel Macron praised firefighters for saving the cathedral's iconic facade and towers. "Thanks to their bravery, the worst has been avoided."

Yet he lamented the damage already done to "the cathedral of all French people," and pledged to launch an international fundraising campaign to rebuild the cathedral.

Smoke rises in front of the altar cross at Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris on April 15, 2019, after a fire engulfed the building. - A huge fire swept through the roof of the famed Notre-Dame Cathedral in central Paris on April 15, 2019, sending flames and huge clouds of grey smoke billowing into the sky. The flames and smoke plumed from the spire and roof of the gothic cathedral, visited by millions of people a year. A spokesman for the cathedral told AFP that the wooden structure supporting the roof was being gutted by the blaze. (Photo by PHILIPPE WOJAZER/AFP/Getty Images)

"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

For much of the day, flames and thick plumes of smoke billowed from the cathedral, including the bell tower and the spire. Rescue workers rushed to evacuate artworks.

It was not immediately known what caused the fire. The cathedral is surrounded by scaffolding amid construction work. Paris Fire Brigade Commander General Jean-Claude Gallet said the initial call to emergency services notified authorities of a fire in the attic of the cathedral.

About 400 firefighters were mobilized to deal with the blaze, the French Interior Ministry said. Firetrucks had difficulty accessing the scene, located on an island in Paris, amid the daily afternoon rush hour. Police urged the public to avoid the area.

Firefighters atop cherry-picker cranes sprayed water onto the church in an attempt to calm the flames.

One firefighter was seriously injured, Gallet said.

'Madness'

The fire, just days before Easter, was met with horror by Parisians and tourists.

Thibaud Binétruy, who lives in Paris, said he saw the smoke while walking home with a colleague and was gripped by the sight.

"When the spire fell, the crowd reacted with 'ohhh' and 'ahh,' but I guess most of them were just shocked silently," Binétruy 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."

Smoke rises around the alter in front of the cross inside the Notre-Dame Cathedral as the fire continues to burn on April 16, 2019 in the French capital Paris. - A huge fire swept through the roof of the famed Notre-Dame Cathedral in central Paris on April 15, 2019, sending flames and huge clouds of grey smoke billowing into the sky. The flames and smoke plumed from the spire and roof of the gothic cathedral, visited by millions of people a year. A spokesman for the cathedral told AFP that the wooden structure supporting the roof was being gutted by the blaze. (Photo by PHILIPPE WOJAZER/AFP/Getty Images)

Patryk Bukalski was at a cafe near the cathedral when he started smelling smoke.

"A bartender said the Notre Dame is on fire, so I left and saw this horrible picture," he said over Instagram.

He said people are standing outside, watching and crying.

"It's horrible. It's a symbol of Paris," Bukalski said. "It's just sad. I don't know what more to say."

Another witness, Anne Marie, spoke with tears in her eyes.

"In Paris, it's a monumental symbol -- every person with different religions are really moved and saddened," she said. "Paris without the cathedral is not Paris anymore."

The Vatican said the Holy See learned with "shock and sadness the news of the terrible fire that has devastated the Cathedral of Notre Dame de Paris, symbol of Christianity, in France and in the world."

"We express our closeness to the French Catholic and to the people of Paris. We pray for the firefighters and for all those who are doing everything possible to face this dramatic situation," the Vatican said.

A symbol of France

Notre Dame's foundation stone was laid in 1163 by Pope Alexander III, and the cathedral was completed in the 13th century. Today, with its towers, spire, flying buttresses and stained glass, Notre Dame is considered a feat of architecture as well as a major religious and cultural symbol of France.

Located in Île de la Cité, a small island in the middle of the city, the cathedral is one of Paris' most popular attractions, drawing an estimated 13 million visitors a year.

Even as it fell into disrepair over the centuries, it was the site of Napoleon Bonaparte's coronation as emperor in 1804. The central spire was built in the 19th century amid a broad restoration effort, partly buoyed by the success of Victor Hugo's novel "The Hunchback of Notre-Dame" in 1831.

The cathedral also houses the grand organ, one of the world's most famous musical instruments, as well as the Crown of Thorns, a relic of the passion of Christ.

An image taken from a television screen shows an aerial view of the Notre-Dame Cathedral engulfed in flames on April 15, 2019, in the French capital Paris. - A huge fire swept through the roof of the famed Notre-Dame Cathedral in central Paris on April 15, 2019, sending flames and huge clouds of grey smoke billowing into the sky. The flames and smoke plumed from the spire and roof of the gothic cathedral, visited by millions of people a year. A spokesman for the cathedral told AFP that the wooden structure supporting the roof was being gutted by the blaze. (AFP/Getty Images)

Presiden Macron postponed a planned speech Monday night because of the Notre Dame fire, a spokesperson for the Elysee Palace said.

"Notre Dame of Paris in flames. Emotion for a whole nation. Thoughts for all Catholics and for all French. Like all our countrymen, I'm sad tonight to see this part of us burn," Macron said on Twitter.

Macron arrived at the scene, accompanied by Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo, French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe and first lady Brigitte Macron, as well as the Paris prosecutor, who has opened an investigation into the fire.

Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, the president of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, said Notre Dame "is not only a majestic church, it is also a world treasure," he said.

"Noble in architecture and art, it has long been a symbol of the transcendent human spirit as well as our longing for God," he said.

US President Donald Trump said it was a "terrible, terrible fire" and lamented the damage done to the historic cathedral.

"That's beyond countries, that's beyond anything," he said. "It's a part of our culture."

The cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris is home to numerous artifacts, works of art and religious relics that each tell a story.

Here’s an overview of some of the revered Gothic cathedral’s most noteworthy features.

  • The Great Organ has been replaced and updated several times throughout history. The position of titular organist, or head organist, carries great prestige in France and around the world.
  • The Rose Windows are a trio of immense round windows over the cathedral’s three main portals.
  • Numerous sculptures, statues and paintings inside the cathedral depict Biblical scenes and saints.

One series of 76 paintings, each nearly four meters tall, commemorates the New Testament’s Acts of the Apostles, including the crucifixion of St. Peter and the conversion of St. Paul. The works were completed between 1630 and 1707 by the members or associates of the Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture.

Another painting is from a series by Jean Jouvenet depicting the life of the Virgin Mary. All six from the series used to be in the cathedral. They were moved to the Louvre in the 1860s, and only “The Visitation” was returned to Notre Dame.

  • The twin bell towers, first constructed in the 13th century, were the tallest structures in Paris until the completion of the Eiffel Tower in the late 19th century.
  • The cathedral’s main bell, Emanuelle, has marked significant moments in French history, such as the end of World War II, as well as holidays and special occasions.
  • The cathedral’s treasury contains several artifacts sacred in Christianity, including what is believed to be the Crown of Thorns, a fragment of the True Cross and one of the Holy Nails.
  • On the cathedral’s exterior, a menagerie of menacing gargoyles and chimères stand guard.

What was saved

  • The Crown of Thorns, which some believe was placed on the head of Jesus and which the cathedral calls its "most precious and most venerated relic," was rescued from the fire, according to Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo.
  • Hidalgo confirmed the Tunic of Saint Louis and other "major" works were also saved.
  • The facade and twin bell towers, the tallest structures in Paris until the completion of the Eiffel Tower in the late 19th century, survived the blaze.
    The North tower was completed in 1240 and the South tower in 1250.
  • The cathedral's main bell, Emanuelle, lives in the South tower. It has marked significant moments in French history, such as the end of World War II, as well as holidays and special occasions.
  • The Rose windows are a trio of immense round stained-glass windows over the cathedral's three main portals that date back to the 13th century. The Archbishop of Paris said all three have been saved, reports CNN affiliate BFM TV.
  • The original Great Organ, one of the world's most famous musical instruments, dates back to medieval times. Over the years, organ makers renovated the instrument and added onto it, but it still contained pipes from the Middle Ages before Monday's fire.
    The position of titular organist, or head organist, carries great prestige in France and around the world. The Archbishop of Paris confirmed the organ is safe, reports CNN affiliate BFM TV.

Fate of other artifacts unconfirmed

"We managed to protect the most precious treasures in a safe place," a Paris City Hall spokesperson told CNN.

However it has not been confirmed whether individual items such as a fragment of the True Cross and one of the Holy Nails were saved.

  • There were also numerous sculptures, statues and paintings inside the cathedral depicting Biblical scenes and saints.

One series of 76 paintings, each nearly four meters tall, commemorates the New Testament's Acts of the Apostles, including the crucifixion of St. Peter and the conversion of St. Paul. The works were completed between 1630 and 1707 by the members or associates of the Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture.

Another painting is from a series by Jean Jouvenet depicting the life of the Virgin Mary. All six from the series used to be in the cathedral. They were moved to the Louvre in the 1860s, and only "The Visitation" was returned to Notre Dame.

A portrait from 1648 of St. Thomas Aquinas also graced the cathedral's interiors.

  • It is not yet clear how much damage there is to the cathedral's exterior, where a menagerie of menacing gargoyles and chimeras stand guard and a system of flying buttresses support the outside walls.
    A Paris police source told CNN that part of the vault has collapsed in the central nave, and architects are checking whether the structure is stable.
  • The cathedral also has an archaeological crypt under the courtyard. It was created to protect 19th-century relics that were discovered during excavations in 1965. It opened to the public in 1980.
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