A wrought copper statue of a rooster that sat atop Notre-Dame has been found "battered" in the debris of the Paris cathedral following its devastating fire, France's culture ministry said.
The statue is considered all the more important because it contains three holy relics - including a fragment of the Crown of Thorns believed by Christians to have been worn by Jesus Christ during his crucifixion, placed there to protect Parisians.
The sculpture of the bird - which is an unofficial symbol of France -- was recovered by a restorer picking through the rubble left when the spire on which it had sat toppled at the height of the inferno that ravaged Notre-Dame on Monday, a ministry spokesman told AFP.
The head of the French Builders Federation, Jacques Chanut, retweeted a picture of the restorer holding a green-coloured rooster statue in the street.
The ministry spokesman said the statue had been handed over to religious officials, without elaborating.
A ministry official separately told Le Parisien newspaper that the statue was "battered but apparently restorable".
The official was quoted saying that, when the 19th-century spire had collapsed into the cathedral, the rooster statue had detached "and fallen on the good side... away from the seat of the fire".
Because of the statue's damage, it was not yet possible to verify if the Crown of Thorns fragment or the other relics were still inside, the official said.
In a stroke of good timing, sculptures of the Twelve Apostles and four New Testament evangelists that adorned the cathedral had been lifted off the building last week, before the fire, for restoration work in the southwestern city of Perigueux.
Those statues had been fixed to the cathedral in the mid-19th century when the spire had been built to replace the original 13th-century one that had been dismantled in the late 18th century because of weather damage.
Pope Francis said he was pained by the fire and that the entire Catholic Church was grateful to those who risked their lives to save it.
Risking their own lives, firefighters formed a human chain to rescue a swathe of Notre-Dame's "priceless treasures" as the fire raged on Monday night into the early hours of Tuesday morning.
Some 400 firefighters tackled the huge blaze at the 12th century Gothic masterpiece and, oblivious to the danger they faced, saw their efforts rewarded as they saved the main structure.
They also brought out many relics by going inside even as the inferno spread quickly on the medieval roof beams - not least the Holy Crown of Thorns and a sacred tunic worn by 13th century French king Louis IX.
Addressing tens of thousands of people in St. Peter's Square for his Wednesday general audience, Pope Francis also said he hoped the restoration effort could be a "harmonious work of praise and glory to God."