Fire breaks out at Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris

Fire breaks out at Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris

As the cathedral burned, Parisians gathered to pray and sing hymns outside the church of Saint Julien Les Pauvres across the river from Notre Dame while the flames lit the sky behind them. AFP reported that the fire may have been started accidentally during renovation work underway inside the cathedral.

Thousands turned to social media to share their heartbreak at the destruction of the 850-year-old cathedral. And Catholic churches in France have reportedly come under attack in recent months; a cross of human excrement was found at one church and a beheaded statue of Jesus at another.

Flames and black smoke were seen shooting from the base of the medieval church's spire on Monday. "Like all our compatriots, I am sad this evening to see this part of us burning".

A spokesperson for the cathedral said the whole structure was "burning".

"There will be nothing left", he said.

The surrounding area has been cleared although TV pictures show a large crowd gathering at the scene.

An official from the French Interior Ministry told the Associated Press 400 firefighters are at the scene of the fire.

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Hidalgo said Paris authorities are in touch with Paris diocese. "We can be only horrified by what we see".

"Notre-Dame belonged to all humanity. We are sending all of our support and strength to the people of Paris-and stand ready to provide any and all resources we can".

It has given its name to one of the country's literary masterpieces.

Notre Dame has enjoyed a special place in literature and film as the subject of Victor Hugo's 1831 novel The Hunchback of Notre Dame, which was made into a popular animated movie by Disney in 1996. And in 1966, world leaders flocked to the cathedral to pay their final respects to former French president François Mitterrand. It survived two world wars largely unscathed. Its striking spire has collapsed, along with a great deal of the roof.

It has been a symbol of France since the 12th century, but now Parisians are reacting with shock at the fire which has swept through the iconic cathedral.

Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel has offered her support to the people of France, calling Notre-Dame a "symbol of French and European culture".

"We are now in a time of cooling but both towers of the cathedral are safe", she told reporters. Paris prosecutors have opened an investigation. The views expressed therein are not necessarily those of, its sponsors or advertisers.

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