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(The Guardian) — It feels as though the very heart of France and the soul of Europe have been suddenly and viciously ripped out. The fire that coursed through large sections of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris on Monday evening was an act of blind and terrible destruction that causes a great stab of emotional pain to us all.

In a frighteningly short time, it gutted and humbled one of the great buildings of Paris, in an act of annihilation of one of the emblematic places of Europe that had survived the brutality of the French revolution and the world wars of the 20th century.

The fire struck quickly and seemingly uncontrollably. It gathered force with immense power and ferocity, engulfing much of the roof and the central spire as it caught hold. The difficulty of marshalling full and effective firefighting operations to protect the building, which is on a small and historic island in the middle of the Seine, was quickly evident and agonising.

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