As everyone knows by now, the Notre Dame de Paris has burned. Being in France, and even if we weren’t, I can’t tell you how devastating it feels, watching. The French news has been broadcasting live for hours, and despite not speaking French as well as we hoped, we understand one thing clearly: The Notre Dame fire is a tragedy. I also certainly hope the initial reports of the fire being accidental hold true, as the alternative is just unfathomable.
I first studied the cathedral in Art History 101, learning of the grand flying buttresses and the spectacular Rose Window. In books, and on slides, I got my first look at her, and knew, right then, what a treasure. Years later, in 2000, I got to see her in person. The books, the photos, they cannot paint even a fraction of the amazement. The enormity of the cathedral, and the austerity, well, it’s overwhelming. You cannot help but feel both the sense of a higher power and of humanity, all at once. Lighting a candle and saying a silent prayer, walking the aisles, sitting, for just a moment to take in the hallowed hush…you are transported to a simpler time.
Since the first visit, I have been lucky enough to return on several occasions. The last, and to me, the best, was in the spring only a couple of years ago, with Seven and Rusty. It was the first time I stood in line to climb to the top. It didn’t take us long, the wait. We sat outside the church, chatting and laughing, until before we knew it, we were headed up the tiniest of circular stairwells, making our way to the top of this amazing building.
From there, we could look out over the city, facing the Eiffel Tower, breathing in the smells of wafting crepes, hearing the sounds of the tourists far below. As we turned, we could see the view towards the back of the church, past the bell tower and the spire. It is otherworldly, how gargantuan the church is. You feel so small, so insignificant. We got to touch the bell, seeing it up close. We got to name the gargoyles. We got to experience the cathedral, we got to love her. I can’t tell you how relieved I feel that Seven got to make memories here. I wish everyone could say the same.
Waking up this morning, to the news that the Notre Dame fire is out, that the two towers have been saved, along with most of the art, is wonderful news. In fact, it’s better than most anyone allowed themselves to hope for. If I am understanding correctly, two of the rose windows are intact, but one lost its glass. The bells are still fine, and the interior is somewhat salvageable. I hope, in time, she will be rebuilt, and go on inspiring future generations. 700 years just isn’t long enough.
We are set to return again in just over a week, and again in three more weeks. I don’t know how it will feel to see her so broken. I’m not sure we will be able to even look, but, I know we will. We have to. We all have to.
Vive la France.