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Fire breaks out at New York cathedral
Up to 200 firefighters rushed to the historic Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York when a blaze broke out earlier this week.

An adjoining gift shop was heavily damaged as flames shot from the six-story Episcopal church that has been under construction for more than a century, reports Associated Press.

Part of the roof of the three-story gift shop caved in but no injuries were reported. Fire officials said they expected widespread smoke and water damage throughout the building - the world's largest Gothic cathedral. Two rare tapestries may have been seriously damaged.

The alarm was raised at about 7 a.m., an hour before the first Mass of the day. Smoke poured from the gift shop, and scores of onlookers stood by.

On the church grounds a block from the blaze, members of the Cathedral School's basketball team were led to safety by staff. Arriving parents were told to return home with their children.

The cause of the blaze is under investigation.

Thousands of people visit the cathedral every day, and a half million visit each year. Two Masses are traditionally held on Christmas, each of which typically attracts as many as 5,000 people.

The cathedral is home to many priceless artifacts, including a collection known as the Barberini tapestries, which date to the 17th and 18th centuries. The tapestries, woven on the pope's official looms, depict the life of Christ. Six of the tapestries were on display in the church, and officials said two of them may have been seriously damaged.

The first stone was laid in 1892, but construction has never been completed, and work had continued until World War II. When construction resumed in 1982 after a 41-year break, jobless local youths were trained in old-fashioned stonecutting methods.

Thu Dec 20 2001 (11:48:36 AM)