YORK, England -- A fire believed to have been sparked by lightning gutted part of the medieval York cathedral, causing $1.3 million in damage, but firefighters and priests braved flames to save the Gothic church's 13th century masterpieces.
The fire came just days after the controversial Rev. David Jenkins was consecrated as bishop of Durham in the York Minister.
Jenkins triggered an uproar when he publicly questioned Anglican church belief in the virgin birth, miracles performed by Jesus Christ and Christ's resurrection. Rev. John Mole, a vicar who shouted protests during Friday's consecration ceremonies, said he thought the wrath of God may be behind the fire that erupted early Monday in the 13th-century gothic church.
The Archbishop of Cantebury, Robert Runcie, warned that 'individuals should be careful in declaring divine intervention.'
During the height of the fire, police and clergymen braved searing flames and thick, choking smoke to rescue priceless 13th-century treasures from the cathedral.
'We saved priceless items using a human chain of police and firemen until we were forced to leave by the smoke and flames,' said Ronald Jasper, the Dean of York.
The rescuers removed tapestries, vestments and silver from the church but finally were forced back by the heat and smoke and the partial collapse of the roof.
Firefighters, who battled the blaze for more than three hours, saved most of the towering stone structure, the largest built in England during the Middle Ages and a major tourist attraction.
Runcie, the head of Britain's Anglicans, said it was almost a miracle the cathedral's famous stained-glass windows, the largest collection in Europe, were not severely damaged.
The cathedral's 128 stained-glass windows, created in the 12th century and containing 2 million pieces of glass, are virtually irreplacable.
Chief York glazier Peter Gibson said the 8,000-piece rose window of the south transept suffered numerous cracks that will require careful work with silicon to repair.
Police have ruled out arson in the cathedral, 190 miles north of London, and authorities said they do not believe the blaze is connected with the consecration of Jenkins.
Brigitte King, watching from a nearby youth hostel, said she saw, 'two bolts of lightning strike on either side of the minster's central tower.' Firefighters agreed lightning probably set off the blaze.
'When the fire was really going, it sent giant flames leaping up from the transept, lighting up the night sky,' another witness said.
First estimates said it would take more than $1.3 million to repair the building.