On Monday, I watched in disbelief and horror as a ferocious fire took hold of the Notre-Dame Cathedral.
I was left devastated by the sad images before me as I watched one of Paris’ most iconic landmarks burn helplessly away. My immediate thoughts were for the safety of tourists and Parisians, I never once thought it was terrorist related, how could anyone burn down such a beautiful place of worship, the heart of Paris? My next thoughts as the Gothic steeple fell so effortlessly to the ground was that I wanted to be there, I wanted to get on the next Eurostar to Paris to share in the sorrow and grief of all Parisians.
It was a heart-breaking sight that left me in tears, the sadness that gripped me on Monday night was the same as when Paris was under threat and attacked so viciously by terrorists a few years ago. I feel so inextricably tied to the city of lights; I can’t really explain why. When something so terrible happens to a city you adore, you feel as if you’re being attacked on a personal level and that’s how I felt when I saw this magnificent monument burning, I too was burning inside.
The Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris is the heart and soul of the city of Paris, its just as iconic as the Iron Lady, the Eiffel Tower, together, they grace the Parisian skyline like no other – it’s simply Paris. The Notre-Dame is one of Paris’ top 10 sights and it’s sure to be on every visitors list to tick off. Due in part because of Victor Hugo’s extraordinary novel, The Hunchback of Notre-Dame which made the cathedral internationally famous but what do you really know about the Notre-Dame Cathedral? Perhaps only then will you begin to understand why everyone was left bereft and at the mercy of the fierce flames that engulfed the holy cathedral on Monday night.
Notre-Dame de Paris means “Our Lady of Paris” in French, it’s simply referred to as the Notre-Dame, a medieval catholic church on the Île de la Cité in the 4th arrondissement of Paris. It dates back to the 12th century, 1160 to be precise and considered to be one of the finest examples of French Gothic architecture, it’s truly a magnificent site to behold. When entering the cathedral, you can’t but help but feel immersed in centuries old history which stands before you. Transfixed by the sheer stature of this medieval building and its ancient relics and artefacts. For me, it’s a feeling of awe as I marvel at the magnificent Rose stained glass windows and the statue of Joan of Arc, enthralled and slightly frightful of the Gargoyles that guard the cathedral high up.
The Gallery of Kings.
The western Facade of the Notre-Dame, the two pillars which are still standing. Photo from a visit in August 2017. Sadly the queues, were too long to go inside.
The Cathedral houses many priceless relics and precious religious artefacts including the Tunic of St Louis which is thought to have been worn by King Louis IX as he brought the Crown of Thorns to the Notre-Dame in 1231.The Crown of Thorns was placed on the head of Jesus Christ during the crucifixion, it was meant to signify a crown but was intended to cause him immeasurable pain and distress and used to mock his claim of authority as the Son of God. The cathedral underwent many changes in the mid-centuries for example during the Renaissance period when the Gothic style fell out of fashion, the internal pillars and walls were covered in tapestries and during the reigns of Louis XIV and Louis XV, the cathedral underwent numerous alterations to reflect the more classical style of the period. A golden crucifix was placed on the altar which miraculously survived the fire, surely now, a symbol of hope.
The Notre-Dame is famous for it’s beautiful and colourful stained-glass windows known as the Rose windows which date back to around 1225. There are three Rose windows in all, one smaller and two larger. The north Rose was created in 1250 and the south Rose in 1260. Each Rose contains symbols and medallions depicting scenes from Christianity including Christ, the Angels and Saints from the Old and New Testaments. The fire left the great medieval Rose windows intact and for that we must be extremely thankful. You can see how the Notre-Dame is such a religious symbol for Catholics in Paris.
You can see the Cathedral’s famous spire in the background and the two pillars. This scene from across the river Seine is one of my favourites and depicts Paris perfectly. The bells can be heard from this distance from the Pont Saint-Louis.
The cathedral has undergone extensive renovations in the past especially when it was desecrated during the French Revolution. Obviously, you would expect restoration works to be carried out regularly on a building of this age which is why many believe it’s how the fire started during the current renovations. I’ve heard that the cathedral was only 15 to 30 minutes away from destruction and its testament to the French firefighters, their bravery and skill that saved the building from being destroyed. Within an hour the lead-clad timber roof of the cathedral including the iconic timber spire was engulfed, this is what upset me most of all. Although the building is still standing, the two familiar pillars are erect, it is the spire that we all know and recognise. The oak part of the cathedral’s roof was destroyed as was the timber roof trusses, it could have been much worse though.
Over the years, the Notre-Dame has held a dear place in my heart. You may know from reading my posts that the left bank of Paris is my favourite neighbourhood. The parts that encompass the Latin Quarter and the Saint-Germain. If I’m staying in the right bank in particular the Marais, I cross the rue Pont Louis-Philippe and the Pont Saint-Louis where the restaurant Chez Julien is located and I walk across to Café L’Esmeralda, from there I am confronted by the magnificent site of the Notre-Dame.
I always stop here for a coffee on the way to the Left Bank as I sit and admire the Gothic spire of the Notre-Dame opposite.
No matter where I am going, I will always make time to marvel at the Gothic spire, the Gargoyles and the fascinating façade of the cathedral, every little symbol tells a different religious story steeped in history and meaning. The cathedral has been the centre of numerous historic events including in 1431, England’s Henry VI was crowned King of France inside the cathedral, it was the scene of Napoleon Bonaparte’s coronation in 1804. World leaders attended memorial services for former French Presidents Charles de Gaulle and Francois Mitterrand and so much more.
The Cathedral is truly magnificent, every symbol has it’s own unique religious story. This is the Portal of Judgement on the Western Facade, the two pillars.
The Portal of the Virgin
Having missed recent opportunities to visit the inside of the Notre-Dame due to the long, long queues, I promised myself that during my visit in July, I would make it a priority, alas, this will not now be possible. I promised my daughter that this time, we would make the time to go inside and it saddens me to think we won’t be able to for quite a few years while the momentous task of re-building the cathedral begins. I am comforted in this knowledge because no matter when it’s finished, however long it takes, I will happily bear the long queues to go inside this Grand Dame once again.
I have every faith and belief that the Cathedral will be restored to its former glory. The French are resilient and proud of their city, already there have been donations from all over the world which has seen the fund exceed one billion. Indeed, a fund has been set up which you can donate to, see below. The bulk of the money has been pledged by three of France’s richest families, French billionaire business men, the Bettencourt Meyers family who control L’Oreal, from the Louis Brand LVMH CEO Bernard Arnault and the Pinault family who control the Kering business. A fun fact for you, the Mexican actress Salma Hayek is married to Pinault’s son Francois-Henri.
This Instagram post shared a few days ago by Brown’s Hotel is one of my favourite images of the Parisian skyline though it may have temporarily changed without the familiar Gothic spire, it still represents everything that I love about Paris and its historic buildings. It will rise from the ashes once again and be as magnificent as ever for everyone to enjoy. The Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris is a symbol for all Catholics not just in Paris but all over the world, it’s a piece of everlasting history.
On the evening of the fire, French president Emmanuel Macron gave a heartfelt, inspiring and moving speech talking about how he intends to see the Cathedral re-built in five short years. I love the passion and self-belief of the Parisians, fiercely protective and proud of their city as I am too.
The Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris will rise from the ashes like a phoenix once again, of this I am quite sure.
You can donate to the fund to help pay for the restoration work to the Notre-Dame by clicking on this link.
Yesterday, President Macron held a day long tribute at the Élysée Palace to honour the brave Pompier de Paris (the firefighters of Paris) who worked so tirelessly to save the Notre-Dame from complete destruction. It is because of them that the Notre-Dame is still standing and I would like to take a moment to thank them for their dedication and hard work and for saving this glorious religious monument.
All photo’s are my own unless otherwise stated.