There are few more iconic buildings in the world than the cathedral of Notre-Dame de Paris. The fire that has ripped through the great building is not just a tragedy for France but for the whole of Europe.

The church, with its familiar double towers and spire, now sadly destroyed, is a masterpiece of European medieval Gothic architecture, though modified on many occasions down the centuries. It is also a centre for worship for the Catholic faith filled with priceless artifacts, paintings and holy relics, including a piece of the true cross.

These past few years have been difficult for France. The spate of terror attacks two years ago in Paris, Nice and other cities left scores dead and plunged the country into a state of emergency.

In recent weeks, the centre of the French capital has been ravaged by street protests staged by the so-called gilets jaunes movement. Each weekend they have smashed up the centre of the city around the Champs Elysee, wrecking cars and shops.

President Emmanuel Macron was due last night to address the French people on the outcome of the national debate he launched to address voters’ concerns. Instead, he was on his way to witness his country’s most cherished building engulfed in flames.

Here in the UK we have seen Windsor Castle gutted by fire and parts of Hampton Court and York Minster badly damaged. As with Notre-Dame they happened while repair work was under way. Mercifully, those buildings were rebuilt though the damage to Notre-Dame may be more extensive.

This is a dreadful moment for France and its people. We share their pain. Notre-Dame can and must rise again.

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