Notre Dame, (Our Lady), situated in the heart of Paris on the Ille de Cite, is over eight centuries old. April 15, 2019, the day of this shocking fire, will become a historic date in the life of this magnificent cathedral. What took over 200 years to build was almost lost in a couple of hours. The first stone was laid in 1163 to begin the construction of Notre Dame (Our Lady) and continued until completion in 1345.
This view (above) from the back of the church, where the fire in the attic began, is my favourite. There is a small garden behind the church with the Fontaine de la Vierge (Fountain of the Virgin). On Sundays after church, families gather here. It’s always a treat to see young children chasing the pigeons while their parents and grandparents sit on the benches and visit.
A Sunday in Paris is not complete without attending the International Mass at Notre Dame. I am not Catholic, but I love being tucked into a pew listening to the service in languages I don’t understand. One is in Latin, one in French and the other is given usually by a guest speaker in the language of their choice. The music, the organ (thankfully spared), and the female vocalist, whose powerful voice embraces the entire congregation are so breathtakingly beautiful it brings tears to your eyes. Just sitting quietly soaking up the ambience, architecture, history, and art is overwhelming. Trying to visualize how this structure could have been built without modern tools and methods is beyond comprehension…
The wooden frame of the attic, the oldest part of the church of Notre Dame, is called “The Forest”. High vaulted ceilings consistent with the Gothic style required the strength of the tall oak trees (13,000) that were cleared from 21 hectares of a forest located close by. It’s possible these trees were 100-200 years old at the time they were felled, a testament to their strength and service. The wooden frame supported the lead roof weighing over 200 tonnes. Although lead is fire-resistant, it was the wooden frame below that caught fire.
Notre Dame has a compelling history. During the French Revolution (1789-1799) and the Reign of Terror, within that time period, the Catholic religion was banned in the cathedral. After that time the Notre Dame fell into serious disrepair. Napoleon Bonaparte returned the cathedral back to the Catholic Church in 1801 and shortly thereafter, in 1804, crowned himself at Notre Dame as the Emperor of France. In the early 1800s, artists and writers began lobbying the government to restore the church. Much credit was given to Victor Hugo and his book, “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” for renewing interest and tourism to Notre Dame leading to a major restoration in 1844. The stained glass windows were removed to ensure their safety during the German occupation of WW11. In recent years, Notre Dame has become a place of healing after the terror attacks in Paris. I wonder if Easter services may be held outside of the cathedral this weekend…
As part of the 850-year celebration of Notre Dame, eight new bells were cast and put on display in the cathedral before being moved to the towers. Each one, with its own name, was perfectly tuned to ring in harmony with, Emmanuel, the original bell from 1686. The total weight of the bells is 23 tonnes. These along with the towers on the facade of Notre Dame appear to have survived the ravaging flames.
Thankfully many priceless artifacts from the inside of the church have been saved. On this holy week before Easter, celebrated by Christians worldwide, it’s especially fortunate that the Crown of Thorns, a fragment of the wooden cross as well as one of the nails used to crucify Jesus, housed in Notre Dame for centuries, have been safely moved.
This copper rooster, the symbol of France, which served as a “spiritual lightning rod” sat atop the fallen 300-foot spire. It was an unbelievable surprise to find it mostly intact under the rubble of the collapsed roof. Tucked inside were significant relics, one being a “thorn” from the Crown of Thrones. I think it’s safe to assume that this rooster will once again stand proudly on guard for the Notre Dame de Paris!
President Macron, along with all French citizens, has vowed to rebuild Notre Dame. Donations have been pouring in for the restoration from French corporations as well as individuals worldwide.
Although much of the history has been lost, Notre Dame will shine again as a treasure to Paris and the rest of the world. Thirteen million people pass through these doors annually…may they not have to wait too many years to enter again…
Wishing you all a Happy Easter weekend…xox Judy