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Notre Dame Cathedral Devastated, but Despite the Inferno, Prayers Rise and the Cross Remains

Smoke hovers at the altar where a cross still stands inside Notre Dame cathedral in Paris, Monday, April 15, 2019 after a catastrophic fire engulfed the upper reaches of Paris' soaring cathedral. (Philippe Wojazer/Pool via AP)

The blaze that engulfed and destroyed a large part of Notre Dame cathedral in Paris has now been fully extinguished.

The world watched in horror Monday as the cathedral went up in flames. Distraught Parisians gathered all around as the iconic structure glowed bright red and smoke filled the skies. Some bowed to pray in the streets as firefighters battled the blaze.

"It was just heartbreaking to watch. The ladders were not tall enough. The hoses were not strong enough," said eye witness John Dickas.

The heat from the flames was felt even on the opposite side of the river Seine. At the height of the fire, the cathedral spire that marked the Paris skyline, toppled from the intense flames.

One witness posted this cell-phone video of a group of strangers gathered nearby the burning cathedral singing a prayer in French.

The flames burning out of control could be seen across Paris Monday evening, and there were moments when it seemed the entire structure would burn to the ground. But this morning the bell towers, the facade and the most precious artifacts from inside remain.

For centuries, Notre Dame has stood as the heart of French identity and a symbol of global Christianity – surviving the French revolution, two world wars and Nazi occupation. The Christian landmark has stood for nearly 900 years.

After a 12-hour battle, firefighters say the entire fire is out. The bell towers and facade remain, but two-thirds of the roof is gone.

Officials are investigating the cause, but don't believe it was arson. They say it was more than likely related to the $6 million restoration project.

In an emotional address to France and the world, President Emmanuel Macron pledged to rebuild. "We'll rebuild Notre-Dame together. I am solemnly telling you tonight: this cathedral will be rebuilt by all of us together. We will rebuild Notre Dame because that is what the French expect, because that is what our history deserves, because it is our destiny," Macron said during a news conference Monday night.

Despite the loss, there's relief at what's been saved.

The cathedral's famous organ was damaged but is reportedly intact and this poignant photo from inside shows the cross and altar are still standing.

Precious relics housed inside the cathedral are also safe, most notably, a crown of thorns said to be from the crucifixion of Jesus. The fate of the famous stained-glass windows is still uncertain.

"For the French, my God, for the world, Notre Dame Cathedral represents what's most notable, what's most uplifting, what's most inspirational about the human project and to see that reduced to ashes? My oh my. I remember our song: 'from the ashes we rise up.' We had Ash Wednesday, we went to rise up with Jesus at Easter and I believe that there'll be some rising from this dying," said Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the Archbishop of New York.  

During a news conference Tuesday morning, officials said the artifacts saved from Notre Dame will be moved the the Louvre.

President Macron says an international campaign will be launched to help fund rebuilding and restoration efforts. Already a French billionaire has pledged more than $200 million to the project.

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