A fire has destroyed the only church in Northrop, a small city in south-central Minnesota.

The blaze broke out early Wednesday inside St. James Lutheran Church, built in 1940, bringing down the roof and leaving the sanctuary "a total loss," police said in a statement. No one was in the church at the time, police said, and no firefighters were hurt.

Northrop Mayor Tom Wakey called the church "a beautiful building," with stained glass windows, a bell tower and a carefully restored altar. The church, founded in 1890, lost "all their history, records and their special music," he said. "We had a lot of crying residents over there this morning."

The fire in Northrop follows two other church fires in recent weeks — in Duluth and Melrose, Minn. The State Fire Marshal's investigations into the causes of the Melrose and Northrop fires is still active, according to a spokeswoman. The Duluth Fire Marshal determined that the blaze at Gloria Dei Lutheran Church was an accident, caused by electrical wiring.

Wakey, a retired firefighter, awoke to his pager going off at 2 a.m. Wednesday. When he arrived at the church, about three blocks from his house, flames were rising from the building's east end. Fire and police departments from several nearby cities responded to Northrop, which is about 120 miles southwest of the Twin Cities in Martin County.

"It's just a pile of rubble and twisted metal and shattered wood," Pastor Robert Trueblood said by phone Thursday from the site of the fire. "It's pretty heart-wrenching."

The church is also home to Northrop's only grade school — St. James Lutheran School, with children in pre-K through eighth grades. The school portion of the building, which is attached to the church, was not damaged, Trueblood said.

On Sunday, congregants will gather at Martin Luther High School in town, he said. But long-term plans are uncertain.

Most residents in Northrop, a town of about 225 people, attend the Lutheran church, Wakey said.

"A lot of fun, a lot of marriages, a lot of people went to heaven there," he said. "It was just the mainstay of the community."