As towering flames shot through the roof of Notre Dame Cathedral, some witnesses thought the Gothic structure that has stood for 850 years was doomed.
But after firefighters battled for nine hours to put out the blaze, officials said Tuesday that despite the extensive damage that will take years to repair, many of the historic building's iconic features were left intact.
Msgr. Patrick Chauvet, who was at the cathedral when the fire broke out about 6:20 p.m. local time on Monday, said the three rose-stained glass windows survived the inferno.
The large round windows that date back to 1250 were "not blemished," Chauvet told reporters.
Chauvet said the cathedral's famous 18th-century organ that boasts 8,000 pipes was also left unscathed.
"The organ, too, thank God, did not get water and is intact," Chauvet said.
Andrew Finot, head of communications for Notre Dame Cathedral, said about 80% of the artifacts in the sanctuary were saved, including the Crown of Thorns purportedly placed on Jesus Christ's head during his crucifixion, and the Tunic from Saint Louis worn by the 13th-century King Louis IX. He said a team raced to the cathedral when the fire broke out and removed many of the relics.
A French priest is being hailed a hero after he rushed into the cathedral alongside firefighters to save the relics.
Once Jean-Marc Fournier, chaplain of the Paris Fire Brigade, got inside, he and other first responders found an intendant who had the code to access the Crown of Thorns and the group managed to get the priceless artifact out of the burning structure, he told reporters.
The 315-foot spire had already toppled over by the time the team made it inside, Fournier said, adding that "the goal" was to preserve the "extraordinary relic."
Photos released Tuesday showed the altar in the main sanctuary was left intact and a gold crucifix that hangs at the rear of the pulpit appeared unscathed.
But the cathedral's huge roof, which was mostly supported by ancient wooden beams from a medieval forest, was a total loss. Charred wooden beams fell through the arched ceiling and landed in front of the altar.
"There is no more roof," Chauvet said.
During the fire, a spire that stood atop the center of the cathedral broke apart and toppled over.
Chauvet said a rooster that sat atop a cross on the spire was found slightly blemished.
"We found the rooster," Chauvet said.
Chauvet said he was at the cathedral Monday afternoon when a passerby directed his attention to the first signs of smoke.
"I went immediately to the rectory and they had already called the firefighters," Chauvet said. "We have guards that three times a day check in on the framework to make sure it doesn’t burn.
He said when the first alarm sounded, the guards went to check the wooden framework, but it was too late.
"It was too late because the fire had started underneath. There was nothing to do," he said. "Framework from the 13th century I could tell you it burns fast."
Valérie Pécresse, president of the Île-de-France region that encompasses Paris, said on ABC's "Good Morning America" Tuesday that it is a "miracle" that the walls of the cathedral are still standing. She said firefighters fought the blaze through the night, saving the main sanctuary and the cathedral's historic bell towers.
Chauvet said his faith has been bolstered by the outpouring of support and sympathy from around the world.
"This is horrible, it’s painful, it’s sad," Chauvet said. "But Easter is coming up, it gives hope. I pray a lot in front of the crowned virgin. When I went in I said, I hope she's still there, and she was. All alone."