Notre Dame is Burning: An Iconic Landmark Devastated

When I was a teenager, I read many books which featured Notre Dame Cathedral and it was always my dream to go visit this iconic landmark.  Fortunately, my travels have taken me to Paris twice. Today, when I looked at my news feed at lunch, I was shocked to see the news that Notre Dame is Burning. This is one of those devastating events that I will always remember where I was and what I was doing when I heard the news.

When I first saw the item at the top of the ticker is simply said “fire at Notre Dame, more to follow.” I figured maybe a small fire had started near the church but would be quickly put out. But a short time later the pictures started to come out showing billowing flames coming from the roof. I literally gasped. I just know this church that I love is not going to ever be the same.  At this point I hope they can save it, but later in the day additional news comes out from French Officials that the Cathedral cannot be saved.

UPDATE: After this post was published, it turns out that roof collapsed, all the wood inside the church burned, and the spire collapsed; but the main structure was saved and there are plans to rebuild. Additionally, while a few first responders were inured, overall it was a blessing more people are not hurt. My thoughts to the families of the first responders.

A landmark that has stood for over 700 years is reduced to ash and rubble. The first time I visited Notre Dame, it was a brisk November morning. It is my first time in Paris and I am visiting as part of a tour group. The bus drops us off near Point au Change and I walk across the bridge, finally I get to see this historic building that I have read about so many times. The sun is just coming up over the spires, there are not a lot of people in on the small island, Ill de la Cite, on the Seine River. There is a feeling of timelessness as the sun rises over the square.

Finally, the church opens and the group gets to go inside. TV and movies do not prepare you for the beauty of the church. It is smaller inside than I imagined. But on the other hand, the stained-glass windows with the early sunlight steaming in creates such a stunning, beautiful, dispersion of light. Looking at the architecture of the building is amazing; to think that hundreds of years ago this great building was crafted by talented people who did not have access to modern technology. You look up at the soaring ceilings and realize how amazing this work really is. The tour only gets to stay for 45 min and we are on to the next location. But overall, this is a wonderful experience for my first visit to Notre Dame.

The second time I was lucky enough to visit Notre Dame, it is August, the end of Summer. This time I am visiting the city for one week with my friend Jenn. We both wanted to visit the city but did not want to go alone, a girl’s weeks was a great idea. Jenn had never been to the Cathedral so we go the first afternoon in Paris. The sun was out, the island was full of people, the church has a lot of visitors, but it is still a wonderful experience. Despite the noise outside, it is quiet inside; people speak in hushed voices as they admire the beauty and artistry.

Because it is summer, the towers are open. For an additional charge, a visitor can join a group and climb to the top, see the bell tower, and get a wonderful view of the city. I love to climb things, people who travel with me will tell you it is an exhausting habit. But Jenn is game and we wait the 30 minutes for our turn to climb the tower.

The entry is in the left tower. About half way up there is a gift shop, where the guide invites the group to stop, shop a little and rest. There are many stairs on the circular staircase, so it is nice to take this break on the way up. I have to admit I did get a little dizzy on the way up. Oh, but the climb was worth it for the panoramic view from the top.  The bell tower is nothing like described in the book Hunchback of Notre Dame, and nothing like portrayed in movies.  It is actually tiny and a bit difficult to get to with the trusses up on the roof. Still, I had to go up the extra stairs so I could say I have climbed all the way to the bell tower. The guide lets the group wander for a few minutes on the path set out. From this vantage one can get some unique pictures of Paris. Sadly, my pictures, like the Cathedral are lost. After the time is up, the guide takes the group down the right tower and we are back on the ground. Thus, ends my wonderful second visit.

My heart breaks for the people of Paris, to watch this beloved landmark burn must feel like losing a piece of yourself. Notre Dame is such a wonderful piece of history and the city will never be the same. Oh, it will go on as Paris always does, but there will be a hole that can never be filled for those of us cherished this beloved church.

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