There was an air of mourning in Paris as the sun rose on Tuesday with hundreds of people gathering on the banks of the Seine to view the devastation at Notre Dame.
An elderly woman wondered whether the fire was a sign from god, saying: “Notre Dame is our soul. The soul of France.
“We are a catholic country, a republic but a catholic country nonetheless – nobody remembers that any more.”
She said she had heard the statue of the Virgin Mary had been saved, adding that it could be a miracle.
Another woman said: “I think it can be rebuilt, but it could take years and years – I am 79 and today, I don’t know if I will ever see Notre Dame whole again.”
As the sun rose over the building, ashes from the cathedral’s spire blew across the banks of the river, along with the blossom from Notre Dame’s gardens.
Miraculously, the trees and vines around the building on Ile de la Cite were barely singed, while the bell towers and the enormous circular window of the nave appeared to be intact.
Despite the fierce heat that consumed Notre Dame’s spire, scaffolding previously erected for restoration work was also still standing.
One refuse working collecting litter on the banks of the Seine said: “It’s incredible (the scaffolding) didn’t fall.”
Daniel Etieve, 70, said: “It’s a very sad picture. For over 800 years this cathedral has been passed from generation to generation.
“Now I question what state we will pass it on to the generations after us.”
One man, who gave his name only as Fabrice, said he was grieving for the incredible timber beams and wooden carvings that characterised Notre Dame’s vaulted ceiling.
The 55-year-old art historian said: “The ceiling was known as ‘the forest’ because of all the thousands of trees that were cut to build it.
“I feel very sad but also I am happy that most of the building is still here.”
He added that Notre Dame has been built over many centuries and that he took comfort in the way the British had repaired Windsor Castle after the fire of 1992.
“But it’s hard to believe that this is happening in Paris – part of ourselves has been destroyed,” he said.
“I always go for a walk in this area every day and come to see Notre Dame. It’s like coming to visit an elderly parent.”
One commuter said: “I come often to Notre Dame for mass and to pray and (the damage) is tearing at my heart.”
But he added: “Luckily it was saved. It was not completely destroyed and, as the president said, we will have money to rebuild it and I hope it will be even more beautiful.”
Accountant Martin Cassan, 32, was hopeful for the future. He had come down to the scene with friends to watch the cathedral burn on Monday evening.
He said: “There’s nothing you can do but have a drink. You feel sad. You definitely feel sad.”
But he asked: “Should it be (rebuilt) exactly the same as before? Will it be like the Louvre – will we have a pyramid in the middle of it?”
Another onlooker, who gave his name only as Clement, said: “As sad as it is, it reminds us that buildings are just temporary, just as we are.”