Today was one of those events that I will never forget where I was when it happened. The news came to me this afternoon in a very mundane way – via a pop-up AP News alert on my phone. My immediate instinct was to think that “Paris’s Notre Dame Cathedral is on fire” couldn’t possibly be as serious at the headline sounded.
But it was.
Notre-Dame de Paris, the 850-year-old true first lady of France, was engulfed in flames.
The cathedral has been a prominent and unchanging part of the Paris sky line for centuries, an icon to scores of generations of Parisians and visitors to the city alike. For centuries, it has towered over the city, higher than anything around it for miles, and serving as a beacon to all in the city.
Notre Dame is also a beacon to those outside of Paris. The city’s “point zero” – where mileages to Paris from other cities are measured to – is a small plate in the ground on the plaza in front of the cathedral.
The photo above was my first glimpse of the edifice of Notre Dame on my 2017 visit, my first visit to Paris since I was a child.
It’s amazing how little has changed about the scene since it was painted by John Barthold Jongkind in 1864. (Today, “La Seine et Notre-Dame de Paris” hangs in the Musee D’Orsay.)
Such is the draw of this iconic cathedral that millions of believers and non-believers alike make pilgramages to visit her each year. One of the oldest structures in Paris, Notre Dame is as revered by many for her history as she is for her place in Catholic faith.
Throughout that history, Notre Dame de Paris has survived many previous calamities. It was severely vandalized during the French Revolution. It survived not one but two world wars. The damage this time may seem horrific, but it will survive this catastrophe too. Notre Dame will rise from the ashes and return to glory. It may take decades of hard work. But I have faith in the love that the French people have for her.