Dozens of French Catholics knelt together in prayer near the Notre-Dame de Paris cathedral Monday, as flames consumed the world-historic symbol of Christian religion and culture.
The onlookers said the Hail Mary, an ancient intercessory prayer to the mother of Jesus Christ. The crowd appeared to be saying the Rosary, a series of prayers that contemplate the joys and sufferings of Jesus and Mary.
Notre Dame, which is French for “Our Lady,” was consecrated to Mary in 1182. The cathedral sits on the Ile de la Cite, a small island at the center of the Seine River.
WATCH: Onlookers sing hymns as Notre Dame Cathedral inferno rages:
The blaze’s devastation appears to be far-reaching. French authorities confirmed that the cathedral roof has collapsed, as has the church’s iconic spire, which reached 300 feet into the air. In recent years the church has fallen into a dangerous state of disrepair, prompting a global push to save the cathedral from catastrophe.
Jean-Claude Gallet, chief of the Paris Fire Brigade, told reporters that first-responders were evacuating relics and historically significant pieces of art. Though primarily a space of worship, the cathedral is something of a museum, housing artifacts spanning a near millennium of French history. Some 400 firefighters are on site, while crowds swelling to the tens of thousands look on.
The Holy See expressed “disbelief and sadness” in a Monday afternoon statement. Pope Francis has not yet commented on the day’s events.
“We express our closeness to French Catholics and to the Parisian population,” the Vatican said. “We pray for the firefighters and for all who do their best to face this dramatic situation.”
French President Emmanuel Macron, Prime Minister Edouard Philippe, and Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo are on site.
As of this writing, first-responders have not contained the blaze, which continued into the night. The cause of the fire is unclear.
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