My dream, for what seems like my whole life, was to go to Paris. And it came true over this past spring break. With several students from LPC, we toured France and I couldn’t believe it was finally happening.
Our first day there was supposed to include an exploration of the Latin Quarter and a visit to the Notre Dame Cathedral. But our plane was cancelled. It looked as if we would miss the opportunity to see one of the iconic landmarks of Paris. But then on our last day in Paris, our tour guide gave us the chance to split our time at Sacré-Cœur and go to the famous cathedral, and we jumped at the chance.
So Monday’s news especially hurt me. Watching the the Notre Dame Cathedral ablaze, it hurt to witness the beauty and history being destroyed. I was just there. Four weeks ago. I, along with millions watched in horror, as the melted spire collapsed.
I’m not a religious person. But you don’t have to be Catholic to comprehend what was lost on Monday. The fire destroyed hundreds of years of history, took away a landmark that stood to educate and inspire generations to come.
This was heartbreaking. Eight hundred and fifty six years. And then it’s destroyed on a random partly cloudy April afternoon in Paris.
It’s also moving and uplifting that people are rallying to preserve this historic monument.
The famous cathedral was built in the year 1163. It wasn’t finished completely until 1345. It was still being used as a place of worship, a landmark where visitors can attend Mass on Sundays.
Admittedly, I feel weird in churches. This one, I couldn’t wait to go inside. Before going in, a bag check is required by security. My initial worry when I first saw the fire was that it was the work of a terrorist. That seemed unlikely due to the security measures I witnessed first hand. But in this day and age, an attack immediately comes to mind even if there is security.
It’s hard to imagine why someone would want to ruin such a majestic and globally relevant edifice. Like the city of Paris itself, the walls of the Notre Dame Cathedral had so much history.
In 1431, Henry VI of England was made king of France there. When Louis XIV (1643-1715) ruled France, he eradicated some of the aspects of the Cathedral that make it great. He demolished a pillar and replaced the stained-glass windows with clear ones. Then the French Revolution (1789-1799) happened and the Cathedral became even more damaged.
In 1802, the Cathedral was returned to the Catholic Church. In 1804, Napoleon Bonaparte was crowned emperor there. Then in 1831, Victor Hugo’s classic book “The Hunchback of Notre Dame,” was published and helped revitalize the old run-down cathedral.
Outside of the cathedral, the most intricate of sculptures and designs are worked into the thresholds and on the walls. It really makes you wonder how they managed to create and upkeep such meticulously work.
When you finally walk in, the Gothic style just slaps you across the face. Floor to ceiling pillars. Vibrant and beautiful stained-glass windows. Chandeliers with candles. The pews. The altar. A big golden cross in the middle. Statues all around.
It. Was. Mesmerizing.
Since it is a tourist attraction, you would expect it to be loud, however it is still a church that is being used, so everyone was quiet and speaking lowly or whispering. One thing that wasn’t expected was how cold it was in the Cathedral. However, it does make sense because it wasn’t made in the modern era.
I was astonished at the size of the entire Cathedral. It really was breathtaking. Seeing all the history, the architecture and the various worship alcloves was astonishing.
Many of the artifacts inside had been moved off site due to the construction being done on the Cathedral. But CBS News reported that when the spire and roof collapsed, the stained-glass windows were destroyed. A full inventory of what was saved and what was destroyed has not been released at the time of publication.
It feels weird to feel this relief and appreciation for being able to see it with my own eyes, smell it with my own nose, feel it with my own spirit. I feel blessed to be able to have been there. At the same time, experiencing it only made watching it burn all the more devastating.