Updated: 7:00 pm ET
Notre Dame, the centuries-old cathedral in Paris, erupted into massive flames Monday as horrified passersby stopped to film the disaster on their cellphones.
It’s not yet clear what started the blaze, although the New York Times reports that the cathedral's iconic spire caught fire first. It eventually collapsed entirely, and video footage from the scene showed onlookers screaming as the flames engulfed the landmark's famous feature.
The cathedral's wooden roof structure — known as "the forrest" was also destroyed by the flames.
But by late Monday night, the cathedral’s iconic facade and bell towers appeared to be "safe," according to Laurent Nunez, France's secretary to the interior minister, as hundreds of firefighters worked to contain the flames.
Parisians who had stuck around to watch the fire decrease in intensity clapped for the firefighters as some of their trucks retreated, according to Le Monde.
French President Emmanuel Macron, addressing reporters before the cathedral’s salvaged facade, thanked the firefighters on-site and said France would work to rebuild the damaged portions of the 850-year-old cathedral.
“The worst has been avoided, even if the battle has not yet been won,” Macron said.
Macron said he'd launch a national fundraising campaign to fulfill his promise to rebuild the cathedral and called on the international community to help.
“I’m telling you all tonight — we will rebuild this cathedral together," he said.
Macron's speech capped a day of panic and sadness for the City of Light.
"There will be nothing left," a spokesperson for the cathedral told the BBC earlier in the evening as fires ravaged much of the structure.
The cathedral is home to some relics precious to Christians, including a piece of artwork containing what’s purported to be a thorn from a crown once worn by Jesus Christ, according to NBC. A French reporter, however, wrote on Twitter that the crown of thorns and other sacraments had been saved.
Notre Dame is currently undergoing $6.8 million worth of much-needed renovations, and officials told BBC News the fire could be linked to that construction. Firefighters are on the scene in central Paris and trying to put out the blaze.
The disaster comes just days before Easter Sunday, one of the most important Christian holidays.
The historic cathedral — also one of the city’s most-visited tourist destinations — has been in disrepair for years, but updates were long stalled due to bureaucratic inefficiencies that blocked France’s government from paying for the upkeep.
The most recent repairs aren’t the first time the cathedral has needed saving, though. After the French Revolution, Notre Dame was near destruction until Napoleon Bonaparte stepped in and urged restoration.
Cover image: Flames and smoke are seen billowing from the roof at Notre-Dame Cathedral April 15, 2019 in Paris, France. A fire broke out on Monday afternoon and quickly spread across the building, collapsing the spire. The cause is yet unknown but officials said it was possibly linked to ongoing renovation work. (Photo by Pierre Suu/Getty Images)