Ever since I first arrived in Paris, there was one place that I could not wait to see with my own eyes – Notre-Dame de Paris – the cathedral of all cathedrals. At least, this is what I used to tell myself back then. Fast-forward to now, and several years later of living in Paris, it holds a much bigger place in my heart. I was not planning to write about last Monday’s inferno; however, having read numerous criticisms about Notre-Dame donations, I felt it was my duty to speak up.
As I stood across the Seine watching the heroic actions of sapeurs-pompiers de Paris, I witnessed the city come together. There was this strange, eerie silence in the crowd, even though it was later reported that several hundred thousand were present. Some of us were in shock, some prayed and cried; others sang Catholic songs and lit candles. At the Pont de la Tournelle, a large group of people gathered and sang “Ave Maria” as the flames at Notre-Dame de Paris were raging in the background. I couldn’t help but pray that the brave men and women fighting the inferno get out unharmed. Later, some of my friends asked why this fire was so significant, especially that there was no loss of life. Others outright complained about prompt and significant donations towards reconstruction and restoration of Notre-Dame.
More than just a building.
Aside from being a UNESCO world heritage object that is over 850 years of age, Notre-Dame de Paris played a significant role in the history of France. First and foremost, it is an incredible example of French Gothic architecture. It stands in the place where Paris began – Île de la Cité; it took almost 200 years to build, while incorporating different eras and governing influences into its architecture.
Many of the French royalty were married in or at the parvis of the cathedral. It was ravaged during the French Revolution, and briefly brought back to life by Napoléon where he crowned himself in 1804. Victor Hugo later invigorated the public’s and government’s interest in Notre-Dame when his novel “Notre-Dame de Paris” was published in 1831. As a result, King Louis Philippe ordered for the cathedral to be restored by Eugène Viollet-le-Duc along with Jean-Baptiste-Antoine Lassus. It was them, who added the spire which was destroyed in the fire last Monday.
Aside from being the world’s priceless architectural gem, Notre-Dame carries a deeper connection to the people of France; it stood with Paris during her worst and best. It survived the two World Wars and has become a place where the nation had come together numerous times through its history.
Within hours of the fire, President Macron announced that the cathedral would be rebuilt; two days later, over a billion euro in donations had been pledged by the French billionaire families and companies, including LVMH, Kering, and Total. A city in Hungary, Szeged, had pledged 10 000€ in a thanking gesture to the city of Paris for the help it provided 140 years ago after a major flood left 60 000 Hungarians homeless. In addition, Chateau de Versailles and Philippe Sereys de Rothschild just announced a donation of 871 160€. While the public donations can be made through La Fondation Avenir du Patrimoine à Paris.
The incredible work carried out by the pompiers, the police and everyone else involved resulted in majority of Notre-Dame cathedral and its treasures being saved. The latter have already been moved to Hotel de Ville and the Louvre, where they will remain for a while. The President of France, Emmanuel Macron, announced that the cathedral will be restored in 5 years. However, there is currently no exact information on the cost and the details of the work required.
The wooden roof and the XIX-century spire collapsed, falling through the ceiling onto the floor below. The three rosettes are still in place and appear to be in a good condition. Most other stained glass windows also seem to have resisted. Nevertheless, it is simply impossible to guess what happens next at this point in time.
As I stood on Pont de la Tournelle that Monday night, I saw that we were all different, yet same. There was this unspoken understanding of the immense tragedy of the event unfolding in front of our eyes.
What happened to Notre-Dame de Paris is not just a devastating fire that partially destroyed the building’s structure. It was a catastrophe that, miraculously, amongst the chaos, brought people together. And it was at that moment that I was again reminded why I so profoundly love this city, this country and these people.
I leave you with this incredible sketch that I received from a friend. I spent hours trying to find the artist, but to no avail. If anybody could help me track him or her down, so I could properly credit the image, it would be great. Merci.