The Notre-Dame Cathedral is one of the largest and most notable churches in the world, distinguished by its age, history, and architectural interest. The French call the beloved cathedral Notre-Dame de Paris, meaning “Our Lady of Paris.” On Monday, a massive blaze engulfed the roof and other portions of the historic Gothic house of worship. News stations provided multiple live views of the disastrous fire. As smoke billowed over the city, thousands of helpless and grief-stricken onlookers gathered nearby. Distraught Parisians joined together to pray and sing “Ave Maria” into the night while firefighters bravely battled the blaze for a dozen hours.
The fire is believed to have started roughly five or six minutes after the cathedral closed on Monday at 6:45 p.m., per France 24. Thankfully, no injuries were reported. News stations speculated that the origin of the fire might be linked to construction work. During the blaze, bright orange flames and black smoke filled the air. The fire continued to flicker gold embers into the night sky, with firefighters desperately working to save what remained of the structure. As the roof caved in and the spire fell, onlookers cried that the heart of France was on fire. The Local France reported that over 400 firefighters were present. French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe called the rescue efforts “heroic.” In the early hours, the flames were finally extinguished. Amid fallen ash and soot, experts are currently attempting to assess the degree of damage to the 850-year-old cathedral.
Shortly after the fire, First Deputy Mayor of Paris Emmanuel Grégoire reported some good news. He told the BFM news channel that the firefighters had entered the cathedral and were able to bring out some of the priceless religious artwork. Though the fire destroyed much of the beloved historic landmark, many of the paintings were rescued and are headed to the Louvre for treatment and restoration. The relic of the crown of thorns, believed to have been worn by Jesus Christ at the time of his crucifixion, was saved from the flames. Though some portions of the stone exterior remain intact, the heat, smoke, water, and falling materials have left the cathedral in ruins.
Notre-Dame de Paris is beloved by countless people worldwide, drawing over 13 million visitors per year. I count myself among the lucky ones to have visited the cathedral. My dream to study abroad came to fruition during my senior year of college, back in the mid-1980s. I traveled to France to study for six months in the city of Nancy, the capital of the northeastern French department of Meurthe-et-Moselle. Being a college student meant limited funds for sightseeing and weekend excursions. Being budget-minded, I sought to visit iconic places that were either low-cost or free, and Notre-Dame de Paris was at the top of my list.
Though I had seen photos of the cathedral in books, I was awestruck upon viewing Notre-Dame de Paris from across the River Seine. As I walked along the Pont au Double, a quaint cast-iron bridge built in 1882, I observed glorious views of the medieval Catholic cathedral. Situated at the eastern end of the île de la Cité, it was a vision to behold. From the lateral forces of its flying buttresses to its splendid lengthy spire, the church captivated my attention. The size was imposing, yet the stone exterior fit the city so well that it achieved a delicate and natural balance. Its enormous and colorful rose windows, bell towers, and multitude of carved statues and interesting gargoyles mysteriously drew me in. I was mesmerized by the sheer height of the interior, which represents the power of the church in the community during the Middle Ages and an immense glorification of God. The vaulted ceilings, the stunning chandeliers, the portals, the rosette windows, the Great Organ, and the bells are among the many physical attributes that make the cathedral unique. Throughout its history, the world-famous building has brought religious, historical, architectural, and artistic magnificence to France.
The cathedral has hosted many significant religious ceremonies and historical events throughout time. In 1804, the cathedral was the site of the Coronation of Napoleon I as Emperor of France. In 1909, Joan of Arc was beatified in the Notre-Dame Cathedral by Pope Pius X. History reminds us that this is not the first time the church has faced adversity. The desecration of the cathedral and the loss of the original spire occurred during the French Revolution. However, the significance of the church endured. In 1843, a major renovation project to save the cathedral was set in motion, attributed to a renewal of interest stirred by Victor Hugo’s The Hunchback of Notre-Dame. Furthermore, the liberation of Paris was celebrated within Notre-Dame in 1944.
Notre-Dame de Paris has been a long-standing active place of worship. For many Christians, the loss comes at a difficult time, during Holy Week leading up to Easter. However, French President Emmanuel Macron addressed the public during Monday’s fire and offered great hope: “Notre-Dame is our history, it’s our literature, it’s our imagery, it’s the place where we live our greatest moments, from wars to pandemics to liberations … I’m telling you all tonight – we will rebuild this cathedral together. This is probably part of the French destiny.” It is likely that this most-visited monument in Europe will soon be restored.