There seems to be a sense of universal shock over last week’s fire that threatened the 856-year-old building in the heart of Paris. And there are those who would argue Notre Dame is not in the heart of Paris, rather, it is the heart of Paris.
One fact I heard in all the news coverage would seem to support this belief. There’s a marker in the cobblestones right outside the cathedral, engraved with the words Point zéro des routes de France. It’s the point from which all distances from Paris to other cities in France are calculated.
And then there were the social media posts, from friends and acquaintances sharing their past encounters with Notre Dame. Which of course got me thinking — what are my particular memories of it?
It’s a bit of a shame I didn’t remember this right away, but, the last time I was in Paris, Notre Dame was the one non-negotiable item on my list. On prior visits, I had seen the church from afar, from bridges and river cruises on the Seine. But I was fairly certain I had never entered. Being Catholic, and of French heritage, it seemed like something I should do.
My friend Tamara, as the faithful comrade and good host that she is, honored my wishes. We ventured over to the Île-de-la-Cité on May 9, 2017. The pictures of Notre Dame in this post are from that visit.
But here’s the thing, and the reason I likely forgot that Notre Dame was on my “bucket list” during that trip two years ago. Tamara also suggested we visit Sainte-Chapelle while we were in the vicinity, and I was kind of blown away. It’s the memory of Sainte-Chapelle’s stained glass that sticks with me.
And just one year prior, in May of 2016, Tamara and I climbed the towers of St. Peter’s Cathedral in Geneva. Another memory that sticks with me. Going back nearly twenty years, on a solo trip to the Île Saint-Honorat (roughly 950 kilometers from Notre Dame), I encountered some ruins that have never left my mind’s eye. When I imagine a true escape, I return to the remains of an 11th century fort, commanding a spectacularly singular view of the Mediterranean Sea.
By no means do I intend to diminish the tragedy of the fire at Notre Dame with these other memories. I suppose the point I’m trying to make is this: there’s so much beauty and wonder in the world and its history. It just seems a pity that it takes the threat of losing a thing so precious to open our eyes to it.