The fire that tore through the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris on Monday, collapsing its central spire and caving in much of its roof, generated an outpouring of grief in France and around the world as a symbol of the country’s culture and history burned.
President Emmanuel Macron of France canceled a major speech on the yellow vests protests that have roiled the country, saying on Twitter, “like all of our fellow citizens, I am sad tonight to see this part of us burn.”
Thousands of French citizens lined the banks of the Seine, many in tears or unable to speak, watching the flames gut the cathedral, which survived two world wars unscathed, as tens of thousands more watched on live video streams on social media or television news. Many expressed the same sentiment: They were heartbroken.
Sylvie Lacour, who lived near the cathedral for eight years, watched it burn on television. “The heart of Paris and my country is being gutted by the flames. I am devastated.” Beyond being one of her favorite spots in Paris, the iconic symbol of the city held a special place in her heart, she said.
Lacour’s mother died April 21, 1991. Her mother wanted to be baptized, but died before she was able to do it, so Lacour went to Notre Dame and asked for a Mass to be said in her name.
“I am what you call a lapsed Catholic, but I always found Notre Dame to be a deeply spiritual place, even though it was also a tourist spot,” she said.
“My mother once told me that places of worship soaked up the fervor of those who came there. It was very special to me,” she said. “It felt vibrant and serene at the same time.”
On social media, people around the world expressed their grief.
“Notre Dame Cathedral is one of the most historic and breathtaking buildings in the world,” wrote one user on Twitter. “This is so devastating.”
Another remarked on the “tragic loss” that the fire represented for France: A cathedral built over two centuries, completed in 1345, containing the priceless rose stained-glass windows and other treasures of France’s long Catholic history, engulfed in flames that have done untold damage to the artifacts and Gothic architecture of the building.
Other recent visitors to the cathedral wrote on social media that they were “absolutely gutted.”
World leaders expressed similar despair at the blaze. President Donald Trump tweeted that it was “so horrible to watch.”
The German foreign minister, Heiko Maas, said in a tweet: “The burning of Notre Dame also hits us in the heart. Our thoughts are with all the forces and our French friends. Together with them, we hope that no one will be harmed by the fire.”