Large crowds gathered around France’s historic Notre Dame Cathedral Monday evening could be heard singing Ave Maria after a fire significantly damaged the icon.
Shortly after the fire began, crowds began to surround the cathedral in a show of unity. Parisians could be heard singing church hymns well into Monday evening and continued until early Tuesday morning. Some members of the crowd appeared to be on their knees.
Over 400 firemen were needed to tame a deadly blaze which consumed the roof and collapsed the spire of the French monument, which is almost eight centuries old. They were only able to bring the fire under control 14 hours after it began.
The cathedral plays a critical role in Judeo-Christian history, a sentiment emphasized by Pope Francis in a statement about the fire.
Calling the cathedral the “architectural jewel of a collective memory,” the pope hoped that after it is restored it could once again be a “sign of the faith of those who built it, mother church of your diocese, architectural and spiritual heritage of Paris, France and humanity.”
Members of the crowd quickly began to post videos of the singers online.
“Crowd and fire is calm. Sounds of church singing, chatter, and sirens. Wind is gentle, air is cool. Blowing smell of smoke on us still. Sky is dark and everyone is under street light. I look around and everyone is calm and quiet. Nobody is in a positive mood,” one crowd member tweeted.
Another onlooker who posted a video of the gathering on Twitter described the environment as “eerie.”
The damage to Notre Dame was felt far beyond France and was mourned by travellers and history lovers around the world.
Many posted on social media about their own fond memories of their visits to the cathedral.
“So heartbreaking…many special memories of that place, from visiting for the first time on my high school French class trip, having my confession heard on a subsequent trip, visiting with my late father and having baguette sandwiches in the adjacent park,” one woman posted on Twitter.
“Here is video that I took at
#NotreDame a short time before the fire today. When we left, it was still a beautiful, sunny day at this wonderful monument. I am in shock! So very sad,” another Twitter user said.
While the cathedral’s spire was damaged, officials were able to save many of the building’s most beloved monuments such as the rose windows and the bells.
Officials predict that the fire was ultimately an accident, but Paris public prosecutor Remy Heitz said that over 50 people will be working on a “long and complex” investigation.
— With a file from Reuters.