As firefighters tirelessly worked to put out the last of the devastating Notre Dame Cathedral fire, there was a small glimmer of hope for churchgoers and tourists alike, as the cross still standing in the smoldering structure.
While mostly everything inside the cathedral seemed to be damaged from the flames or covered in smoke and ash, the giant white cross in the front of the building was miraculously captured still standing and lit up amongst the darkness.
Even from afar, with parts of the roof still burning and embers falling down onto the charred pews, the cross was brightly shining down the cathedral’s aisle.
The fire alarms were triggered at the cathedral, which is undergoing a $6.8 million restoration, around 6:30 p.m. local time.
Local TV network BFM-TV reported that the fire was “possibly linked” to the renovation, and began in the rafters, but there were no workers scheduled to be on the rooftop scaffolding at the hour the fire broke out.
According to a tweet from the AFP News Agency later on Monday, an official confirmed that the main structure of the historic building had been “saved and preserved,” despite the spire and roof being consumed by flames and collapsing earlier in the evening.
“The worst has been avoided, but the battle isn’t fully won yet,” French President Emmanuel Macron told crowds in a speech given outside of the church.
“It is with pride I tell you tonight we will rebuild this cathedral,” he added. “We will rebuild Notre Dame because it is what the French expect of us, it is what our history deserves, it is, in the deepest sense, our destiny.”
As the landmark burned, pedestrians flooded the streets to watch the blaze, many in tears, one Paris resident tells PEOPLE. A crowd even gathered together to sing “Ave Maria” near the cathedral.
Many others took to Twitter to document the horrifying scene. “It feels like the end of the world,” one user wrote. “It’s getting worse. But the fire brigade has turned up. Hard to see how [to] tackle this. The plume of smoke is already 100s of feet long.”
In the wake of the fires and President Macron’s promise to rebuild the structure, Salma Hayek‘s husband François-Henri Pinault pledged €100 million (over US $113 million) to help with the cathedral’s reconstruction.
In a statement obtained by French newspaper Le Figaro, Pinault, 56, said, “My father (François Pinault) and myself have decided to release a sum of €100 million from our Artemis funds (the family holding company) to participate in the effort that will be necessary for the complete reconstruction of Notre-Dame.”
The Catholic cathedral is located on an island in the center of the capital called the Île de la Cité, surrounded by the River Seine. The building was completed around 1260, but has been modified over the centuries.
The French Gothic building is remarkable for its stained-glass rose window, flying buttresses and large spire. The latter has now collapsed after being consumed by flames. That spire replaced the original, which was damaged by wind and removed in the 18th century. The current one was made of oak covered with lead and weighed 750 tons.
Notre Dame was the subject of Victor Hugo’s 1831 novel The Hunchback of Notre Dame, which was made into a popular animated film by Disney in 1996.