The fire erupted around 6:30 p.m. Monday local time, causing the historic spire and roof of the building to collapse

By Helen Murphy
April 16, 2019 08:59 AM

Several major artifacts were left unharmed by Monday’s devastating fire at the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, but many remain unaccounted for.

As firefighters strove to put out the flames on Monday, other workers attempted to rescue the innumerable artworks and relics inside the building.

Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo said in a tweet that many sacred objects had been saved, sharing a photo of the rescue efforts. “The Crown of Thorns, the Tunic of Saint Louis and several other major works are now in a safe place,” she wrote.

The Crown of Thorns is a Catholic relic believed to be a piece of the item worn by Jesus when he was crucified. The Tunic of Saint Louis is said to have belonged to King Louis IX.

A famous statue of the Virgin Mary inside the cathedral also appears to be safe, as does the cathedral’s 18th-century organ, according to USA Today.

“You can still see that the statue of the Virgin Mary is still standing,” Paris resident Catherine Oudot told the outlet. “It’s a relief to know that it survived. Notre Dame isn’t just a Christian landmark or a cultural landmark. It’s an absolute symbol for us, for France.”

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The status of other historic objects in the cathedral remains unclear.

According to the New York Times, the fate of the three iconic stained glass rose windows is uncertain, as the high temperatures may have melted the lead that holds the panes in place. The outlet also reported that there may be significant water damage on many of the large paintings inside the cathedral.

The cathedral also contained a piece of wood said to be part of the cross used in the crucifixion. The fate of the so-called “True Cross” remains unclear, according to the Times and other outlets.

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The massive fire erupted on Monday night, destroying the roof of the 850-year-old building and causing the spire to collapse.

The Catholic church is a world-famous landmark for the French capital, second only perhaps to the Eiffel Tower, and draws about 13 million visitors per year. It has been a center of religious and cultural life there since it was completed around 1365.

Before the blaze, the church had been undergoing an extensive $6.8 million renovation. While no official cause has been named, some reports from local TV station BFM-TV indicate the fire was “possibly linked” to the renovation and began in the rafters, though no workers were scheduled to be there when it broke out.

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Because of the restoration project, some pieces of the cathedral were not on site and therefore saved from destruction.

Just last week, bronze statues from the 12th and 13th century were removed from the spire. The Chicago Tribune reports that a crane lowered the 12 apostles statues and four animals representing the evangelists Matthew, Mark, Luke and John onto a truck. Those statues were scheduled to be sent to southwestern France, which means they likely were spared. Their original position was at the cathedral’s peak, 300 feet up.

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Pedestrians flooded the streets to watch the blaze, many in tears, one Paris resident told PEOPLE. On Monday evening, a crowd gathered to sing “Ave Maria” near the cathedral.

According to a tweet from the AFP, a Paris fire official confirmed that the main structure of the historic building has been “saved and preserved,” despite the spire and roof being consumed by flames and collapsing earlier in the evening.

CBS News reported that a spokesperson for the Paris fire service said Tuesday morning that “the entire fire is out” and that the emergency services are now “surveying the movement of the structures and extinguishing smoldering residues.”

“The worst has been avoided, but the battle isn’t fully won yet,” French President Emmanuel Macron told crowds in a speech given outside of the church Monday night.

He promised that the cathedral will be rebuilt. “It is with pride I tell you tonight we will rebuild this cathedral . . . we will rebuild Notre Dame because it is what the French expect of us, it is what our history deserves, it is, in the deepest sense, our destiny,” he said.