The onlookers paid tribute to the iconic Paris landmark with a song as they watched it burn in the distance
Crowds in Paris gathered near Notre Dame Cathedral to sing “Ave Maria” on Monday, as a massive fire consumed parts of the structure.
“The crowd singing ‘Ave Maria’ in one of the bridges in Paris that overlooks #NotreDame in flames,” one user wrote alongside a video of a massive crowd that had broken out in a beautiful rendition of the hymn.
“This is heartbreaking,” another wrote alongside a shared livestream of the groups from World News. “Crowds sing Ave Maria outside of the burning Notre-Dame in Paris.”
After news broke that the Paris landmark was on fire, pedestrians began flooding the streets to watch the blaze, and many were in tears, a Paris resident tells PEOPLE. Twitter users also documented the scene.
“It feels like the end of the world,” one user wrote. “It’s getting worse. But the fire brigade has turned up. Hard to see how [to] tackle this. The plume of smoke is already 100s of feet long.”
French President Emmanuel Macron reportedly canceled a speech he had scheduled for Monday night and went to the scene. He then left to meet with French police, according to the Washington Post.
“Our Lady of Paris in flames. Emotion of a whole nation. Thoughts for all Catholics and for all French,” he wrote of the fire in a tweet translated from French. “Like all our countrymen, I’m sad tonight to see this part of us burn.”
The fire alarms were triggered at the cathedral, which is undergoing a $6.8 million restoration, around 6:30 p.m. local time. Local TV network BFM-TV reported that the fire was “possibly linked” to the renovation, and began in the rafters, but there were no workers scheduled to be on the rooftop scaffolding at the hour the fire broke out.
As of 11:20 p.m. local time, the main structure of the building had been saved from “total destruction,” according to a fire official’s statement to CNBC.
Earlier in the evening, the towering spire of the cathedral had collapsed, and the fire had spread to one of its iconic rectangular towers.
The official told CNBC that one firefighter had been “seriously injured” battling the blaze.
The Catholic cathedral is located on an island in the center of the capital called the Île de la Cité, surrounded by the River Seine. The building was completed around 1260, but has been modified over the centuries.
The French Gothic building is remarkable for its stained-glass rose window, flying buttresses and large spire. The latter has now collapsed after being consumed by flames. That spire replaced the original, which was damaged by wind and removed in the 18th century. The current one was made of oak covered with lead and weighed 750 tons.
Notre Dame was the subject of Victor Hugo’s 1831 novel The Hunchback of Notre Dame, which was made into a popular animated film by Disney in 1996.