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What we know about the Notre Dame fire

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By Alex Johnson

The full devastation of the mammoth fire at the Cathedral of Notre Dame of Paris on Monday remains to be tallied, but it’s known to have destroyed the giant spire that housed some of Christendom’s most sacred relics.

French President Emmanuel Macron promised Monday night that “we will rebuild” the 850-year-old cathedral, one of the greatest monuments to Christianity in the world. Much remains unknown, including what caused the fire, but as firefighters and investigators sifted through the scene, answers to some questions emerged.

What is the Cathedral of Notre Dame of Paris?

The Paris cathedral — whose name means “Our Lady of Paris” — is one of seven cathedrals of Notre Dame in France and by far the most famous. Built on the Île de la Cité in the Seine beginning in the 1160s, it is an essential component of French identity and the home to irreplaceable works of art and religious significance, attracting more than 14 million visitors a year.

The cathedral, which replaced an earlier basilica under the supervision of King Louis VII and Maurice de Sully, who became bishop of Paris in 1160, has survived frequent modifications, wars, revolutions and renovations — sometimes just barely.

Much of the cathedral was damaged and many of its treasures were destroyed during the French Revolution, and in 1793, four years in to the revolution, it was rededicated to the Cult of Reason, with the Goddess of Liberty replacing the Virgin Mary on altars.

Napoleon restored the cathedral to the Roman Catholic Church in 1801, and he was crowned emperor there in 1804. But upkeep of the structure was minimal, leading to Victor Hugo’s depiction of the cathedral as a decrepit, barely functioning edifice in his 1831 novel, “The Hunchback of Notre Dame.” King Louis Philippe didn’t order its full restoration until 13 years later.

Just last year, the Archdiocese of Paris launched what it called an urgent fundraising appeal to save the cathedral, which it said was again starting to crumble.

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