On the square in front of Notre Dame Cathedral, in Paris, lies a bronze marker. All travel distances to locations in France start from here. Notre Dame is the figurative center of France. So last night when we heard she was burning, we showed up by the thousands. At the Place St.-Michel, Catholics gathered to sing for hours on end. The Seine was lined with tourists and neighbors trying to grasp what we were seeing. A pair of nuns watched in utter calm alongside a Buddhist monk deep in a prayer as the bell towers glowed
The southern tower was merely reflecting the fire below, but we could see flames ravaging the North from inside. A man remembers listening to his uncle playing the Cathedral’s organ, thankfully spared. An elderly woman felt compelled to address the crowd, her grief flowing like the river at her feet.
We went to sleep assured by the Paris fire brigade that the structure would survive, although the spire and wooden frame were lost along with a majority of Notre Dame’s art. There was a plan in place and firefighters knew exactly which pieces to save. The crown of thorns, tower bells and St Louis’ tunic are safe and much of the altar is intact.
This morning we wake to the news that the stained glassed rose windows are whole, but exceedingly fragile; the towers too. As I watch a TF1 journalist talk, a rainbow appears behind her, brushing Notre Dame and landing in the Seine.
What was once the cathedral is now a scattering of ashes littering the square in front of Our Lady. Sirens roar and the streets along the quais are jam packed with a muted crowd. People from across the globe are gathering to bear witness to an event that has touched us all.
But there is a promise of rebirth and rebuilding, a promise the French intend to keep with donations. François-Henri Pinault of Kering Group pledged 100 million Euros, with Bernard Arnault of LVMH adding 200 million, and the people of France pledging their money as well.
The crowds, the flowers they leave, the respects they pay, and the quick rush to donate funds for restoration, they are all a testament that no matter what happens to Notre Dame in the days to come, this site shall always be the center of France.
- Discover our favorite places to eat around Notre Dame.
- We round up the best of where to lunch near the Louvre Museum.
- Five hip spots to dine in Montmartre around the Sacre Coeur.