PARIS — There was little time to waste. The wooden roof was a crackling inferno overhead. The flames were now snaking down though the majestic woodwork. The smoke was thick.

Very soon – just minutes maybe – the fire would begin threatening Notre Dame’s artwork and priceless relics, collected through the centuries and tucked throughout the cathedral’s ubiquitous warrens and alcoves.

Firefighters rushed in, looking for whatever they could grab and carry to safety, according to accounts by Paris officials and French media. The fire department chaplain – his glasses reflecting the orange flames – demanded to join them.

Then a human chain took shape, Paris’ deputy mayor for tourism and sports, Jean-Francois Martins, told “CBS This Morning.” It included Parisian officials, church caretakers, and the Rev. Jean-Marc Fournier, the fire chaplain who, hours earlier, had been preparing events for Easter week.

“We have avoided a complete disaster,” said Maxime Cumunel, secretary general of France’s Observatory for Religious Heritage. But he told the Reuters news agency that perhaps “5 to 10 percent of the artwork has probably been destroyed.”

“We have to face up to that,” he said.

Among the items they salvaged, said French Culture Minister Franck Riester, was the crown of thorns that many worshippers believe was worn by Jesus before his crucifixion. Also recovered was a tunic once donned by Saint Louis in the 13th century – while Notre Dame was being built.

Both of those items are now safe at Paris city hall nearby, and would ultimately join a convoy others soon to be taken to the Louvre Museum, Riester announced.

Etienne Loraillère, the editor of France’s KTO Catholic television network, said chaplain Fournier played a key role in saving the crown of thorns and other items.

In another twist of good fortune, 19th century copper statues of the Twelve Apostles and four other biblical figures had been removed by crane from Notre Dame last week to be cleaned as part of a restoration.

Sophie Grange, a spokesman for the Louvre Museum, told The Washington Post that it was not yet clear how many objects the Louvre would be receiving.

Other immovable pieces that made it through the flames – such as the 8,000-pipe organ originally built in 1403 – will be carefully assessed.

The tally of what was lost, however, is already profound. It includes fragments of the remains of Saint Genevieve and Saint Denis, portions of which were installed in 1935 in architect Eugene Emmanuel Viollet-le-Duc’s 19th-century spire, which collapsed at the height of Monday’s blaze.

Historians emphasized that the cathedral itself was an emblem – and even a crucible – for a certain architectural style and the advancements that came with it. Notre Dame was perhaps the iconic gothic aspiration, said Samantha Herrick, a historian of medieval France.

“A lot of features of this church, while not unique, were new at the time,” she said. “Stained glass was new, flying buttresses were new, Gothic architecture itself was new. This was a site of innovation.”

For the moment, the most pressing question is the state of the cathedral’s sprawling stained glass masterpieces – and particularly the three massive, multicolored rose windows originally installed in the 13th century and heavily restored 600 years later. Despite these subsequent restorations, the windows still contain some of their original medieval elements.

Images showed that the rose windows technically remained intact, but the condition of the materials was far from certain. “Clearly, they were damaged, but to what degree we don’t yet know,” said Karine Boulanger, a specialist in stained glass at Sorbonne University in Paris.

“Even if the fire didn’t come all the way down into the cathedral itself, the heat itself was very intense. And the heat will have impacted the glass, as well as the material that keeps the glass panels together,” she said.

The architect Jean de Chelles designed and constructed the northern transept between 1245 and 1260. De Chelles then began the construction of the southern transept in 1258, but it was achieved by Pierre de Montreuil in the 1270.

For experts, what makes the monumental rose windows installed in the course of this construction unique is that there are few examples of medieval stained glass in Paris, at least outside of Sainte-Chappelle, a jewel box of a chapel in the shadow of Notre Dame on the Île de la Cité.

But particularly dazzling is the scale of the rose windows. The north rose, for instance, reaches more than 42 feet in diameter, and south rose roughly more than 62, taking account of its additional skylight.

Herrick noted that the particular way in which portions of the cathedral collapsed were a testament to its Medieval identity, particularly Notre Dame’s lead-clad roof.

“Ironically there’s something ironic about that, as Medieval sources were constantly complaining about cost of keeping up lead roof,” she said. “Fires were constantly happening in the period, and the things most likely to fall in that period were the roofs.”