Editorial: Sharing thoughts on Notre Dame
As fire engulfed the 800-year-old oaken roof of Paris’s iconic Notre-Dame cathedral this Monday, the world seemed to stand still for a few moments as so many watched a world treasure erupt in flames. When the cherished 295-foot wooden spire toppled, crashing through the cathedral’s roof, audible gasps could be heard from the crowds of onlookers in Paris, and most likely wherever else anyone was watching around the world.
The fire affected millions around the world for hundreds of different reasons, and much has already been written about that loss. Comments ranged from fond personal memories of visits to the much larger symbolism of the church burning in this fraught era when civilization itself seems to be on fire — in war, in politics, in hate speech, in sexual crimes within the church, and in America with a president hell-bent on creating strife and tearing down decades, if not centuries, of relationships forged between allies, and of our collective embrace of democracy over tyranny.
“The conflagration brought a feeling of helplessness and foreboding,” CNN’s Frida Ghitis said in a recent broadcast, “the sense — real or imagined — that we were watching a metaphor, a prelude, a warning.”
For the French, it’s more personal; a part of their history as well as a daily presence; a monument to permanence and strength, as well as a constant prayer recognizing the nation’s cultural heritage. The world at once grieves with them, and offers its support.
To give area readers an outlet for their feelings about the fire, which was contained after destroying the roof over the main chapel but leaving the structure in place, we reached out on the Addison Independent’s Facebook page asking area readers to post photos and memories of their trips to the cathedral and what reactions they had. Here are a few of those responses:
• “I was 16 when I visited Notre Dame,” Vicky Loven wrote, “ and despite being a typical teenager, I remember being moved to tears by the beauty of the sun shining through the rose window. Other than the deep pine forest in winter, I have never been in a place that drew my eyes and thoughts heavenward like Notre Dame did.”
• “I traveled in Europe with a dear friend after college,” wrote Diana Barnard. “She was an art history major and taught me so much as we backpacked our way through the many treasures of Europe. I remember visiting Notre Dame and being deeply struck by its majesty.”
• At 16, I excelled in learning the French language and when our teachers set up a trip to France, I got my first job and paid for the whole trip myself,” recalled Jen Cyr. “My parents gave me luggage and a camera for Christmas, and though I’d never flown before, I was ready! It was surreal looking at the ornate carvings and majestic steeples of Notre Dame. Now that I’m older, I have too much anxiety to even think about going back, but I will forever treasure that trip!”
• Alexis Virginia Caswell wrote: “My husband asked me to marry him on my birthday in Paris in 2016. The day we were engaged we walked by and had lunch across the street from Notre Dame. We never went inside because we were rushing to get to the Eiffel Tower. I wish we had gone inside.”
• “My mother was born in France and I spent many childhood summers visiting family there,” recalled Christina Auer. “I don’t remember the first time I visited Notre Dame, but an Easter Sunday visit in 1985 and my daughter’s first visit in 2017 are vivid memories. I have no doubt Notre Dame will be rebuilt, but she will never be the same.”
• Mike McKenna sent three photos he took when he and his wife Lynn attended High Mass at Notre Dame last June. “The light and color of the windows are indescribable, and we’re pleased to hear they survived the fire, as did the gold cross on statue on the altar. The symbolism of this happening on Easter Week, with themes of resurrection, gives one hope… This trip was the 50th anniversary of my first visit to Notre Dame in 1968. I was a high school junior there to study for the summer. Some of us returned to celebrate our reunion. I have visited often since, when traveling for business or pleasure. I took my son to see it in 2000 celebrating his graduation from school. He was there with his wife in October. My daughter visited during her February travels before starting at Middlebury in 2006, and was there again two years ago on her honeymoon. So for all of us, the place is a spiritual North Star we all share.”
My own memories harken back to last June when my wife and I spent five days in Paris, staying in an apartment just a block away from the cathedral. Lisa was born in Paris and lived there off-and-on through high school as her dad worked with IBM and was stationed in Paris for much of her youth. From our apartment perch, we could see a corner of the upper towers of Notre Dame, but mostly I remember the bells chiming on the quarter hour throughout the day.
Of course we walked great stretches of the city, and the physical and spiritual beauty of the cathedral — during the day, or at night, set as it is along the banks of the Seine — was architecturally spectacular, but there was also a very real emotional connection. The cathedral’s magnificence reflected the enormous vision the church held in those days — grandiose and omnipresent — and it seemed to represent a historic permanence that humans crave; an anchor to the past that also connects to the present; a naïve desire to believe in its indestructibility because, perhaps, so many other things crumble around us.
We toured the inside of the church, marveling at how the light poured through the stained glass windows, how enormous the chapel is, the intricacies of the workmanship and the incredible history (taking 182 years to build) of its undertaking: The cathedral, which has long been considered a jewel of medieval Gothic architecture, was built on a small island called the Île de la Cité, in the middle of the Seine. Construction began in 1163, during the reign of King Louis VII, and was completed in 1345.
It’s heartening that French President Emmanuel Macron has pledged to see the roof rebuilt and the extensive damage repaired within five years, or even longer if needed, just as it is heartening to see more than $700 million pledged in donations within two days of the fire, but gone is that sense of invincibility — and all that that represents.
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