(NBC) A massive fire engulfed the historic Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris on Monday, causing the roof to collapse, destroying a spire and bringing many onlookers to tears.
Flames could be seen near scaffolding — high at the top of the famous church where $6.8 million in renovations were being done — and billowing smoke was seen from miles away in the French capital.
At least one of the church’s spires has fallen and France 24 reported that the roof has collapsed.
The spire destroyed by the fire contained artifacts considered sacred to Catholics, including a relic believed to be from Jesus Christ’s crown of thorns. Relics from Saint Genevieve and Saint Denis are also feared lost.
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The massive blaze also spread to one of the church’s landmark rectangular towers. Flames could be seen blazing behind an oblong stained-glass window in one of the towers.
Four hundred firefighters were on the scene, desperately trying to douse flames that were destroying one of the nation’s most treasured sites.
“Everything is burning, nothing will remain from the frame,” Notre Dame spokesman Andre Finot told French media.
Onlookers were in tears as they witnessed flames destroying one of Paris’ most famed and popular landmarks.
“A lot of people are crying,” witness Carolyn Marguiles told NBC News in a phone interview moments before she spotted the roof falling. “Oh my God, it just fully collapsed!”
Another witness, Nicholas Marang, was running by the River Seine when he spotted smoke — but didn’t immediately realize Notre Dame was on fire. He whipped out his phone and took footage of the spire’s fall.
“It was an absolute nightmare,” Marang, a 47-year-old consultant, told NBC News. “I ran to the cathedral and saw the spire of the cathedral falling.”
When the spire burned down, Marang said a part of him fell as well.
“Something just collapsed inside me,” he added. “(It was) one of the worst things I’ve ever seen.”
French President Emmanuel Macron canceled a scheduled speech to deal with the ongoing fire. He said this was an emotional night for Catholics and all of France.
“Our Lady of Paris is in flames,” Macron said in a statement on Twitter, before he rushed to the scene to witness the carnage first-hand. “Emotion for the whole nation. A thought for all Catholics and for all French. Like all our countrymen, I’m sad tonight to see this part of us burn.”
French historian Camille Pascal told broadcaster BFM that the fire marked “the destruction of invaluable heritage.”
“It’s been 800 years that the Cathedral watches over Paris,” Pascal said. “Happy and unfortunate events for centuries have been marked by the bells of Notre Dame.”
No deaths were immediately reported from the massive blaze, Paris police said.
Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the archbishop of New York, said he was praying that “God preserve this splendid house of prayer, and protect those battling the blaze.”
Even President Donald Trump urged Paris firefighters to do everything they could to douse flames.
“It’s one of the great treasures of the world, the greatest artists in the world,” Trump said. “It’s greater than almost any museum in the world and its burning very badly, looks like its burning to the ground.”
“[The cathedral] is beyond countries, that’s beyond anything, that’s part of our growing up, it’s a part of our culture, it’s apart of our lives,” said Trump, who was speaking at an economic roundtable in Minnesota.
The house of worship, with roots dating back to the 12th century, is considered one of the world’s greatest examples of French Gothic architecture.
Construction of Notre Dame began in 1163 under the reign of King Louis VII, and the first stone was laid in the presence of Pope Alexander III.
The landmark was not considered complete until nearly 200 years later, however, with the installation of flying buttresses and a stone fence surrounding the choir and the sanctuary, according to the website for Notre Dame de Paris.
The Associated Press reported that $19 million was set aside in 1991 for a restoration project to replace loose stones on the cathedral.
Nine bronze bells were made in 2013, the church’s 850th anniversary, in order to replace deteriorating artifacts.
Sixteen copper statues were removed from the spire on Friday as part of a restoration effort that was estimated to cost more than $900,000, Agence France Presse reported.
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