NEW YORK – A historic church in Manhattan was destroyed by fire Sunday evening, hours after worshippers celebrated Orthodox Easter.
The fire at the Serbian Orthodox Cathedral of St. Sava began at 7 p.m. and sent plumes of smoke billowing over the New York City skyline.
The fire was largely extinguished three hours later, but not before it destroyed the church's roof. The cause of the blaze was under investigation early Monday.
No major injuries were reported, though three firefighters and a church caretaker suffered minor smoke inhalation. The caretaker had rushed inside the Gothic Revival style building to try to put out the blaze, but had to be rescued.
"For this to happen on such a holy day, I don’t know what to say," Alex Velic, 31, the caretaker's stepson, told the New York Post. "To see it burning like that is such a shock. It’s just so sad."
The fire broke out on the same day Orthodox Christians around the world celebrated Easter. The church website listed services that morning and an Easter luncheon at 1 p.m.
Father Djokan Majstorovic, the church's priest, struggled to get to the fire scene blocked off by firefighters. "I feel like I'm in a nightmare right now," he said.
City Council Member Corey Johnson called for a full investigation into the cause of the fire.
"This is a huge loss for the community," he said. "In addition to being a place of worship, this historic building was a New York City landmark, treasured by the people" living in the neighborhood.
The church was designed by architect Richard M. Upjohn and was built in the early 1850s. One of its earlier congregants was novelist Edith Wharton, who wrote "The Age of Innocence." She was married in the church in 1885.
The Serbian Orthodox Church purchased the building from the Episcopal Diocese in New York in 1943. The building was designated a city landmark in 1968.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.