PARIS – The fire alarm at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris first went off about 6:20 p.m. Monday -- on the second day of Holy Week -- and the world watched powerlessly as the inferno raged there for about 12 hours.
The roof was burning about 6:40 p.m., and as the flames moved across the roof toward the iconic spire and the debris was falling inside, Rev. Jean-Marc Fournier and other priests knew there were treasures that needed to be saved.
The Crown of Thorns, a Catholic relic tied with gold filament and placed under glass in 1896, has been revered by pilgrims from all over the world as the one Jesus Christ wore at his crucifixion. A treasure chest also safeguarded fragments of the cross and a nail.
"We have so much to rebuild," French President Emmanuel Macron said pledging to rebuild it within five years. "We will rebuild Notre Dame Cathedral even more beautifully. We can do it."
UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay said work at the site must begin immediately to protect what is left.
Firefighters, police officers, priests, culture ministry employees and municipal workers rushed to save the cathedral's treasures, which also include a tunic that belonged to King Louis IX. Fournier, the chaplain of Paris fire service, said he saved the holy sacrament.
The 19th-century spire fell at 7:49 p.m. and damaged the high altar, which was installed in 1989. It's unclear if the three relics that were placed inside the bronze weathercock for protection in 1935 made it. The heat deformed it. The fire chief announced about 11:23 p.m. that the rest of the nearly 900-year-old building had been saved.
Authorities plan to remove paintings, which likely suffered smoke damage, starting Friday. A team of restoration artists will be working at City Hall and at the Louvre.
The three large stained-glass rose windows and the 18th century organ and its 8,000 pipes weren't destroyed. The copper statues on the roof had been removed before the renovation.
France’s richest businessman, Bernard Arnault, and his luxury goods group LVMH pledged $226 million for the reconstruction. Billionaire Francois Pinault and his son, Francois-Henri Pinault, who is married to actress Salma Hayek, pledged $113 million. French companies Total and L’Oreal pledged $226 million.
Pope Francis offered his prayers that Notre Dame, the “architectural gem of a collective memory,” will once again be a shrine to the Catholic faith, a symbol of the French nation and a spiritual and architectural gift to humanity.