Parisians and onlookers around the world reacted in horror Monday as a fire ravaged Notre Dame Cathedral.
The blaze, which burned through two-thirds of the French cathedral’s roof and destroyed its iconic spire, was especially distressing to Christians because it occurred during Holy Week, the most sacred period on the Christian calendar.
It is during this week that Christians commemorate the story of Jesus’ death on Good Friday and his resurrection on Easter Sunday. Typically, staff at Notre Dame would have been preparing to display the cathedral’s holy relics to pilgrims, CNN reports.
Instead, fire crews were working to save what they could of the roughly 850-year-old Gothic cathedral. On Monday evening, French officials said that the structure of the building had been preserved, including its two front towers. The cause of the fire was not immediately known.
Hundreds gathered in the nearby streets of Paris to sing hymns and pray as they watched the fire. The Catholic archbishop of Paris, Michel Aupetit, asked priests across France to ring their church bells to call people to pray for the cathedral.
The Vatican expressed shock and sadness over the “terrible fire” and described Notre Dame as a “symbol of Christianity in France and the world,” according to the Catholic news site Crux.
In the U.S., Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said the bishops were also shocked and saddened by the fire. “It has long been a symbol of the transcendent human spirit as well as our longing for God,” he said in a statement.
The Rev. James Martin, a Jesuit priest and editor at large of the Catholic magazine America, wrote on Twitter that watching footage of the burning cathedral was “like watching a dear friend die.”
Notre Dame is one of the most popular tourist spots in Paris, receiving about 30,000 visitors every day and about 13 million per year, The New York Times reports.
On social media, many people ― the famous and the not-so-famous ― posted photos of their own trips to the cathedral. Others shared regret that they hadn’t visited the historic church before this destruction.
It's unbelievably tragic how a structure that stood for nearly a thousand years through wars and plagues and revolution can be razed by a random fire in mere minutes. Nothing in this world is forever. #NotreDame
— Ulrich Janse van Vuuren (@UlrichJvV) April 15, 2019
Oh poor, ancient, beautiful, wounded thing, in a city of light. The precious, fragile things that represent us are not invincible. Our past can turn to ash and darkness in an instant. Things fall apart. We must hold the cloistered centre closer to us. #NotreDame
— Stephen McGann (@StephenMcGann) April 15, 2019
So sad... I was just at #NotreDame yesterday for #PalmSunday. I can’t believe I saw this magnificent piece of history standing as we knew it less than 24 hours before it burned down. People here in London are emotional, in shock and disbelief. #NotreDameCathedral#Parispic.twitter.com/A9ntW3hHnJ
— Marcus Smith (@MarcusSmithKTLA) April 15, 2019
I'm no longer a practicing Catholic but I am a huge fan of art and culture. Watching this fire devastate this over 800 year old building made me cry. Regardless of what it represents its an architectural master peace and the fact that I may never see it in person breaks my heart pic.twitter.com/9kkcurlvKM
— Glow (@Glowyellows) April 15, 2019
The #NotreDame was such a landmark of my youth living in Paris for many years! So many memories at Notre Dame. I hope everyone is safe! So much history lost. J'aime la France ️ https://t.co/Tq2tFYBXm7
— Daniel Newmaη (@DanielNewman) April 15, 2019
— Johnny Weir (@JohnnyGWeir) April 15, 2019
— Patrick Galey (@patrickgaley) April 15, 2019
Look, I'm not Catholic, at all & my heart is breaking over the fire. Notre Dame is gorgeous, both inside and out. So here, have some photos that I took there six years ago, because photos are proof that things were there and that THEY MATTERED. #NotreDamepic.twitter.com/2eNx4j9eii
— Jenny Rae Rappaport (@jennyrae) April 15, 2019
When a piece of art dies, each of us has the right to be affected. So each of us has the right to feel burned by the flames that have flared up tonight in Paris. That’s the greatness and power of art: it belongs to no one—it belongs to every single person who loves it.#NotreDamepic.twitter.com/J3mZePFD7K
— 𝑇𝑤𝑜𝑆𝑡𝑟𝑎𝑤𝑏𝑒𝑟𝑟𝑖𝑒𝑠 (@02strawberries) April 15, 2019
Praying for the 400+ firefighters battling the fire at #NotreDame. Praying for the city of Paris. Praying for our world. “Let the Church [believers in Christ seeking to be vessels for Christ’s love, grace and justice] rise from the ashes.” #Resurrection#Revolution#Redemption
— Be A King (@BerniceKing) April 15, 2019
My heart goes out to Paris. Notre Dame is a symbol of our ability as human beings to unite for a higher purpose—to build breathtaking spaces for worship that no one person could have built on their own. I wish France strength and shared purpose as they grieve and rebuild.
— Hillary Clinton (@HillaryClinton) April 15, 2019
Mourning the Notre Dame fire with the French and people around the world. I first visited the cathedral 50 years ago this June. I was in awe then and every time I visited it after that. Vive la
— Bill Clinton (@BillClinton) April 15, 2019
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. pic.twitter.com/SpMEvv1BzB
— Barack Obama (@BarackObama) April 15, 2019
The majesty of Notre Dame—the history, artistry, and spirituality—took our breath away, lifting us to a higher understanding of who we are and who we can be. Being here in Paris tonight, my heart aches with the people of France. Yet I know that Notre Dame will soon awe us again. https://t.co/p1mIDMbwe1
— Michelle Obama (@MichelleObama) April 15, 2019
— Lou Pettey (@golferlouie) April 15, 2019
As a student of art and architecture, I first went to Paris at age 23; Paris and Notre Dame was my first destination. The artistic achievements there go far beyond religion and politics. Tragic day - My first painting of the place from many years ago.#NotreDameCathedralpic.twitter.com/aHn2vEmoJp
— thomas w schaller (@twschaller) April 15, 2019
- This article originally appeared on HuffPost.