I used to live about a 20-minute walk from Notre-Dame de Paris….
A red-headed girl was then the object of my affection and since the Left Bank was my favorite haunt, we often met Place St Michel in front of the fountain.
To get there, I would often walk past the cathedral, and like all Parisians paying scant attention to the old structure. It was just a familiar place that I liked without realizing it.
Especially as a kid, I always delighted stepping on the magical “Kilometre Zero”, the marker located on the parvis facing the cathedral. This is the starting point for all the distances measured in France.
Iconic Notre-Dame (Our Lady) is a catholic church, but it is much more than that. It is a national treasure, and regardless of one’s faith, it is a place to visit and to reflect on. Unlike the Eiffel Tower, it is located on the “Ile de la Cité » which is truly the center, the beating heart of Paris.
Momentous events took place in this ancient structure. In 1572, Henri de Navarre (a Huguenot) marries Marguerite de Valois, the catholic daughter of Henry II, King of France. But Henri being a protestant is forbidden to enter the church. He will have to convert to Catholicism to do this. This conversion of convenience will allow him to become king of France; but it won’t prevent him from being stabbed to death a few years later by a Catholic fanatic.
In 1804, in a 5-hour ceremony officiated by pope Pie VII, Napoleon used this majestic 800 years old venue to crown himself “Empereur des Français ». There were no cell phones there, but the world took notice.
On November 11, 1918, World War One finally came to an end. The killing stopped and an armistice was proclaimed. On November 17, a solemn Te Deum is organized at Notre Dame to celebrate the end of the war.
Almost 25 years later, on August 26, 1944, Paris is liberated and General de Gaulle goes to the cathedral to attend a mass celebrating that glorious event.
The catastrophic fire that erupted a few day ago, could be a blessing in disguise though. The common grief felt by all the Frenchmen, could be the panacea to end the violent street demonstrations that have plagued France since last November.
The Paris of Esmeralda and Quasimodo does not belong exclusively to the French. It belongs to the world. And when Paris suffers, the world feels the pain and wants to help.
There is no doubt in anybody’s mind that Notre-Dame de Paris will be restored. It will cost an enormous amount of money, but like a phoenix, the burned spire will rise from its ashes and tower again over the Seine and the City of Lights.