A major fire has engulfed one of France’s most famous landmarks – the medieval Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris.
Firefighters are battling to save the 850-year-old Gothic building, but its spire and roof have collapsed.
The cause is not yet clear, but officials say that it could be linked to renovation work.
Last year, the Catholic Church in France appealed for funds to save the building, which was crumbling.
Loud bangs could be heard as flames burst through the cathedral’s roof, also engulfing its left tower.
This week is Holy Week, when millions of Western Christians mark the death and resurrection of Jesus. Under normal circumstances, Notre Dame cathedral in Paris would have been preparing to display its holy relics to the faithful on Good Friday.
But as fire engulfed the sacred site on Monday, Catholics across the world reacted in horror and disbelief, particularly when the cathedral’s iconic spire toppled amid the flames.
For generations, Notre Dame has been a place of pilgrimage and prayer, and, even as religion in France has declined for decades, it remained the beating heart of French Catholicism, open every day for Mass.
Notre Dame is not a parish church, meaning that it does not have a regular body of worshippers who “belong” to the church. But it is still the home church of Paris’ Archbishop Michel Aupetit, and draws Catholics for vespers (evening prayers) Masses and the Sacrament of Reconciliation, also known as Penance.
And every year during Holy Week, Notre Dame unveils some of the most coveted relics in Christendom. Among them is the Holy Crown, believed by many to be from the crown of thorns placed on the head of Jesus. Catholics have prayed with the Holy Crown for more than 16 centuries, according to the cathedral.
Notre Dame also counts among its treasures two other relics connected to Holy Week: a fragment of the Wood of the Cross, believed by many to be a part of the “true cross” on which Jesus was crucified; and one of the nails that the Romans used to crucify Jesus.
ormer US President Barack Obama just tweeted about the destructive fire at Notre Dame cathedral in Paris.
“Notre Dame is one of the world’s great treasures, and we’re thinking of the people of France in your time of grief. It’s in our nature to mourn when we see history lost — but it’s also in our nature to rebuild for tomorrow, as strong as we can,” he said.