BEVERLY — Little did the students know that their spring break trip would become etched in their memories for something completely unexpected.
Eight Beverly High School students and their two French teachers toured the historic Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris Monday morning, as part of a tour of France sponsored by the high school's foreign language department.
But just hours after they left the site, flames swept through the upper parts of the cathedral, ultimately destroying the roof and spire.
The world watched, aghast, as the hours ticked by until French firefighters were finally able to get the blaze under control. By then it was late into the night, and the fire had inflicted serious damage to the religious and cultural treasure.
On Tuesday, Beverly High Principal Betty Taylor confirmed that the students and their teachers, although perhaps shaken by the events, were safe and sound.
Their tour occurred well before the fire broke out, she said, and they weren't near the cathedral at that point.
Two teachers — Caroline Coshow and Lauren Hover — quickly alerted parents and staff back home to the situation on Monday, reassuring them that everyone was safe.
Coshow and Hover, who have been in contact with Taylor via email, said the students were saddened and sympathetic to the widespread sense of loss at the damage to the cathedral.
The students, who include sophomores, juniors and seniors, plan to spend a few more days in Paris and then visit other parts of France before returning home Saturday night.
The inferno raged through the cathedral for more than 12 hours, destroying its spire and roof but sparing its twin medieval bell towers. A frantic rescue effort saved the monument's most precious treasures, including the Crown of Thorns purportedly worn by Jesus, officials said Tuesday. Also surviving was the Roman Catholic cathedral's famous 18th century organ that boasts more than 8,000 pipes.
Statues removed from the roof for restoration just days ago also were saved.
But the cathedral's high altar was damaged by falling debris when the spire collapsed, one official said.
Authorities believe the fire was an accident, possibly as a result of restoration work at the architectural treasure, which survived almost 900 years of tumultuous French history but was devastated in the blaze on the second day of Holy Week.
Paris prosecutor Remy Heitz said the inquiry into what caused the fire would be "long and complex." Fifty investigators were working on it and planned to interview workers from five companies hired for the renovations to the cathedral's roof, where the flames first broke out.
Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.