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Crown of Thorns Notre Dame: Inside the firefighter operation to save an ancient relic.

Notre Dame has been engulfed in flames.

Distraught Parisians and stunned tourists gazed in disbelief as a monstrous inferno tore through Notre Dame Cathedral, one of the world’s best-loved monuments, earlier today.

Thousands of onlookers lined bridges over the Seine and along the river’s embankments, held at a distance by a police cordon as the blaze engulfed the cathedral’s roof.

There were tears, prayers, and hymns sung in commemoration of the “our Lady of Paris”.

And while the people of Paris gathered to mourn the building, firefighters wove together a plan to retrieve one of the most priceless relics inside: Jesus Christ’s Crown of Thorns.

According to a translated tweet from the Mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, firefighters formed a human chain to save the works of Notre Dame, including the Crown of Thorns, the Tunic of Saint Louis, and several other precious relics.

Father Fournier, the Chaplain of the Paris Firefighters, told reporters he was one of the firefighters who went into the burning cathedral to save the Blessed Sacrament and Crown of Thorns.

What is the Crown of Thorns? 

The Crown of Thorns is a relic of the crown placed on the head of Jesus Christ during the events that led to the crucifixion of Jesus. An instrument of passion, the original crown of thorns was intended to cause him pain and mock his authority.

While the authenticity of the Crown of Thorns inside Notre Dame has never been verified, it has been the object of prayer for over sixteen centuries, making it a relic in its own right.

The relic consists of a circle of canes bound together and held by gold threads, and is 21cm in diameter.

In 1239, the king of France, St Louis, took the Crown of Thorns to Notre Dame with his brother, after buying it off the Venetians.

The relic has only able been available for the public to see on the first Friday of every month, and every Friday during Lent.

What other relics were inside Notre Dame?

According to the cathedral’s rector the fire which was caused by a forest of wooden latticework setting alight has already consumed the iconic spire and the roof.

Other relics inside include the 13th century Rose Windows and the medieval great organ.

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Over 76 paintings that commemorate New Testament’s Act of the Apostles, the crucifixion of St. Peter and the conversion of St. Paul are also inside.

“The Visitation” by Jean Jouvenet, which portrays the life of Virgin Mary, was within Notre Dame.

Some relics are also historically significant in modern times. For example, the cathedral’s main bell Emanuelle, has marked the end of World War II, as well as holidays and special occasions.

But it was inside the cathedral’s treasury that some of the most beloved artefacts lay. Alongside the Crown of Thorns, a fragment of the True Cross and one of the Holy Nails, were inside Notre Dame.

The gargoyles on the exterior of the cathedral have also become historically significant.

What happened at Notre Dame?

Flames and smoke rose in the sky as the 856 year old cathedral was consumed by an inferno.

“I’m devastated,” said Elizabeth Caille, 58, who lives close to the cathedral. “It’s a symbol of Paris. It’s a symbol of Christianity. It’s a whole world that is collapsing.”

As dark fell over the French capital, orange flames rising through the heart of the 12th century Gothic cathedral cast an eerie glow through its stained-glass windows and against its stone towers.

Devastation was everywhere.

Dumbstruck observers stood rooted to the spot as the scale of catastrophe sunk in, questioning whether the cathedral would survive the night as clouds of acrid-smelling smoke rose into the sky.

“It will never be the same” said 30-year-old Samantha Silva, tears welling in her eyes as she explained how she would always take foreign friends visiting Paris to the cathedral.

Built over a century starting around the year 1160, historians consider Notre-Dame to be among the best examples of French Gothic cathedral architecture.

Notre Dame survived being ransacked by rioting Huguenots in the 16th century, pillaging during the French Revolution of the 1790s and being left in a state of semi-neglect until Victor Hugo’s 1831 novel The Hunchback of Notre-Dame, which led to renewed interest in the cathedral and a major restoration which began in 1844.

The cathedral continued to be used as a place for national mourning in modern-day France. World leaders attended memorial services held there for former presidents Charles de Gaulle and Francois Mitterrand.

“It’s horrible, it’s 800 years of history gone up in smoke,” said German tourist Katrin Recke.

As firefighters were racing to save priceless artworks, centuries-old gargoyles and the cathedral’s northern tower, world leaders expressed sorrow and grief in messages to the French people.

“Notre-Dame belonged to all humanity. What a tragic spectacle. What horror. I share the French nation’s sadness,” tweeted Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the European Union’s executive Commission.

Former US presidential candidate Hillary Clinton wrote: “My heart goes out to Paris. Notre-Dame is a symbol of our ability as human beings to unite for a higher purpose – to build breathtaking spaces for worship that no one person could have built on their own.”

Our hearts are with Paris.

With AAP. 

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