The vast fire that ripped through Paris' venerable Notre Dame cathedral has struck directly at the soul of France. No single catastrophic event has bit so deeply into the core of the cathedral and its soaring spire as Monday's fire that lit up the city skyline.
As thousands lined the banks of the Seine to gaze up at the flames, there were few words to convey their fear that a central part of the French national identity and eight centuries of its precious history had been lost in a single transcendent moment.
The present structure dates to the 12th century of medieval France, but its religious roots date far further into France's past. The cathedral itself is located in Paris' fourth arrondissement, at the eastern end of the Ile de la Cité, one of two islands where the Seine River divides. This is the oldest portion of Paris, where French kings made their residence when not at the Chateau de Versailles.