As flames threatened to engulf Notre Dame on Monday night, Parisians came together to save the cathedral which has been the beating heart of this city for nine centuries.

A human chain was quickly formed of priests, politicians, and churchgoers - the people who cared most for Notre Dame - all working to save irreplaceable relics from the inferno.

Paris Fire Brigade shows fire fighters spraying water inside Notre Dame cathedral during the blaze that destroyed the roof of the nave. Photo / via AP
Paris Fire Brigade shows fire fighters spraying water inside Notre Dame cathedral during the blaze that destroyed the roof of the nave. Photo / via AP

Along the line they passed artefact after artefact, including the Crown of Thorns (a band of rushes said to be from the original crown of thorns placed on Jesus's head during his crucifixion, one of Notre-Dame's most treasured relics), and the True Cross and Holy Nails — a purported fragment of the cross, and an original nail with which Jesus was crucified.

Jean-Francois Martins, Paris's Deputy Mayor for Tourism and Sports, told how he and others on the scene jumped into action to salvage the trove of art and artefacts housed inside the cathedral. "We made a human chain, with our friends from the church, to get all the relics as quick as possible," he said.

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At the end of the chain, and emerging as one of the heroes of the day, was a priest who is said to have rushed into the burning cathedral to recover the sacred Crown of Thorns and other relics.

Father Jean-Marc Fournier, chaplain of the Paris Fire Brigade who rushed into Notre Dame Cathedral to save holy relics from the fire.
Father Jean-Marc Fournier, chaplain of the Paris Fire Brigade who rushed into Notre Dame Cathedral to save holy relics from the fire.

Jean-Marc Fournier, chaplain of the Paris Fire Brigade who survived an ambush in Afghanistan that killed 10 troops when serving as an army chaplain, "showed no fear" as he worked to bring them out of the cathedral, prompting emergency workers to declare him "an absolute hero."

Philippe Goujon, the Mayor of Paris' 15th district, said Father Fournier insisted on being allowed to enter the burning cathedral with his fellow firefighters.

It has emerged that Father Fournier had also helped the wounded in the Bataclan terror attack on November 13, 2015. He rushed inside the music venue in Paris when Isis militants murdered 89 people using guns and explosives.

The modest chaplain prayed over the dead, and comforted those who were injured or had lost loved ones.

"I gave collective absolution, as the Catholic Church authorises me," Father Fournier said at the time.

The organ at Notre Dame cathedral in Paris is believed to have survived the fire but how much water and fire damage it has sustained is unknown. Photo / AP
The organ at Notre Dame cathedral in Paris is believed to have survived the fire but how much water and fire damage it has sustained is unknown. Photo / AP

Denis Jachiet, the Auxiliary Bishop of Paris, was among those who rushed to help. "I saw the first flames rising from outside and went to assist. There were a few people at mass but they left as soon as the alarm sounded. I was afraid that the whole church would collapse.

"At the time my feelings were of compete devastation disaster and powerlessness."

Firefighters used drones on loan from the culture and interior ministries to track the flames, giving them vital information about how the blaze was spreading.

On Monday night, French officials expressed fears that the centuries-old artefacts would be lost. Just over an hour after it began, the spire had toppled. The roof crashed shortly afterwards. But by 8.30pm, firemen were seen carrying priceless works of art to safety.

A remotely controlled fire hose is used inside the Notre Dame cathedral to dampen the blaze. Photo / AP
A remotely controlled fire hose is used inside the Notre Dame cathedral to dampen the blaze. Photo / AP

Several firefighters risked their lives to dampen down the cathedral's structurally vital belfries, rushing into the cathedral's towers as the fire raged. They feared that if they didn't save the belfries, they would have lost the cathedral's bells.

But the priority was to save as many of the artefacts hidden and displayed in every crevice of the cathedral.

It's what made the job so entirely different from any other large scale blaze, said Lieutenant Colonel Gabriel Plus of the Paris fire service.

"Most of the time, Paris firefighters are charged with preserving life. Here, it was very much about saving the artefacts we could and safeguarding what we couldn't. We had to make choices."

"The priority was to stabilise the roof and then to get the art and all the objects out," one firefighter, who had been manning a nearby water point for 13 hours straight, told The Telegraph. "It was all intact inside apart from where the spire fell. The brief was to take all the art out. They carried it all out by hand."

The Holy Crown of Thorns displayed at a ceremony at Notre Dame Cathedral in 2014. The holy relic was saved from destruction by chaplain of the Paris Fire Brigade, Jean-Marc Fournier. Photo / via AP
The Holy Crown of Thorns displayed at a ceremony at Notre Dame Cathedral in 2014. The holy relic was saved from destruction by chaplain of the Paris Fire Brigade, Jean-Marc Fournier. Photo / via AP

One of the cathedral's most precious objects, the Crown of Thorns is purported to have been worn by Jesus Christ on the cross when he was crucified.

Records of its existence begin in the sixth century AD, when it is believed to have been kept in Jerusalem by Christians.

During the Crusades in 1238, the Latin Emperor of Constantinople gave it to King Louis IX to win his support and try and preserve his crumbling empire.

Although the crown itself was saved from the fire last night, a small fragment of it had been kept in the spire and is therefore believed to have burned to ashes.

Other precious artefacts that were saved included the tunic of Saint Louis, which dated back to the 13th century.

The Paris Fire Brigade used drones to help them fight the massive blaze which tore through the cathedral. Photo / via AP
The Paris Fire Brigade used drones to help them fight the massive blaze which tore through the cathedral. Photo / via AP

On Tuesday morning, as a throng of Parisians and tourists filled the banks of the Seine, many were emotional, but others were relieved to see it standing at all.

Felix and Marion Sibaud, who have lived nearby for over 40 years, said the fire has "cut a hole in the heart of Paris and the country", but felt sure it would be restored to its former glory.

Fighting back tears and clutching her husband's arm, Mrs Sibaud explained that Notre-Dame is "a symbol of heritage" for French people. "It has survived so many things throughout history and played so many different roles. It's unbearable to look at it like this."

This photo provided Tuesday April 16, 2019 by the Paris Fire Brigade shows fire fighters spraying water inside Notre Dame cathedral during the inferno. Photo / AP
This photo provided Tuesday April 16, 2019 by the Paris Fire Brigade shows fire fighters spraying water inside Notre Dame cathedral during the inferno. Photo / AP

As surveillance teams continued to scour every corner of Notre-Dame for signs of structural damage, Lt. Col. Plus reflected on how close Paris had come to losing one of its greatest pieces of architecture.

"You never imagine as a Paris firefighter you will one day be called upon to save Notre-Dame. It's an immense challenge. There is a lot of emotion and a little satisfaction to have saved what we were able to save."