The ‘miracle’ of Notre Dame: Altar cross becomes symbol of hope for France after devastating fire

The cross behind the altar at Notre Dame remains intact (Picture: Reuters)

A cross that somehow remained intact after the devastating fire at Notre Dame Cathedral has become a symbol of hope for France.

The crucifix at the altar of the cathedral in Paris stood tall despite the blaze which ravaged the building on Monday.

The ‘miracle’ cross was captured on camera by the first photographers allowed inside the structure after the fire.

The first harrowing images from within the fire-ravaged cathedral began to emerge as firefighters brought the blaze under control.

A smouldering pile of what appeared to be the charred remains of the roof and spire lay smoking in front of the altar, while the cross that escaped destruction glowed from within the gloom.

Gilded candlesticks, artworks and furnishings were among the treasures seen being rushed from the cathedral by a "human chain" before being bundled into trucks by police officers.

Smoke rises around the altar in front of the cross inside the Notre Dame Cathedral (Picture: Reuters)

Some of the cathedral's most precious objects, including a relic purported to be the crown of thorns worn by Jesus Christ on the cross, were whisked away to a secure facility.

The cause of the fire is not yet known but officials say it could be linked to renovation works on the 12th century cathedral that were underway.

The fire was declared under control nine hours after it broke out. The spire and the roof collapsed, but firefighters managed to save the main stone structure, including two towers.

Flames and smoke are seen billowing from the roof at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris (Picture: Getty)

One firefighter was injured and it is expected to take several days to fully extinguish the blaze.

French president Emmanuel Macron has vowed to rebuild the medieval cathedral.

During a visit there on Monday evening, he said the fire was a “terrible tragedy” but “the worst had been avoided”.

He added: "We'll rebuild this cathedral all together and it's undoubtedly part of the French destiny and the project we'll have for the coming years.”

It was reported by AFP that billionaire French fashion mogul Francois-Henri Pinault had pledged 100 million euros (£86 million) towards the effort.

"Notre Dame is our history, our imagination, where we've lived all our great moments, and is the epicentre of our lives," Mr Macron said.

"It's the story of our books, our paintings. It's the cathedral for all French people, even if they have never been. But it is burning and I know this sadness will be felt by all of our citizens."

The fire started at about 6.30pm local time on Monday and spread to the roof, destroying stained-glass windows and the wooden interior before the spire collapsed.

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Hundreds of firefighters tackled the historic blaze through the night, battling to stop it wreaking complete destruction of the treasured facade after flames torched the roof, sending its spire crashing to the ground before crowds of horrified Parisians.

Meanwhile, teams raced to recover what treasures they could from the 850-year-old Gothic masterpiece, which housed priceless artefacts and relics of huge religious and international significance.

The Paris prosecutors' office said police will carry out an investigation into "involuntary destruction caused by fire", indicating authorities are treating the blaze as a tragic accident for now.

The spire at Notre Dame burns before collapsing (Picture: PA)

Arson, including possible terror-related motives, was earlier ruled out.

Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo added: "The Crown of thorns, the tunic of Saint Louis and several other major works are now in a safe place."

Despite fire racing through Notre Dame's roof, firefighters were able to prevent the blaze consuming the cathedral's main structure, including its two bell towers.

There were hopes that the three famous rose windows, which date back to the 13th century, avoided catastrophic damage, while the bells that have rung out at key moments in France's history were thought to be safe.

The Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris following a fire which destroyed much of the building (Picture: PA)

Notre Dame is one of Paris's oldest and most recognisable buildings, and work began on it in 1163.

The original structure was completed nearly 200 years later, in 1345, and its name literally translates to "Our Lady of Paris".

Some 13 million people now visit the Catholic landmark every year - more than 30,000 every day on average - according to its official website, and it is believed to be one of the most visited structures in the French capital.

Renovation works to fix Notre Dame's historic stone walls and buttresses were estimated to cost around 150 million euro (£130 million).