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.