Bruno and I spent five days in Paris during our honeymoon. Living that graduate student stipend life, we spent five nights in what was basically a tiny attic converted to an apartment four blocks away from the Notre Dame. We arrived in the evening and after dinner at a local cafe, we walked to the famed cathedral. It was our first and most frequented stop during the entire trip.
I knew I wanted to see it — I grew up watching the Hunchback of Notre Dame over and over (side note: how was this ever a children’s movie?). But I do not think I expected it to startle me in the way it did. I could not get over the church’s beauty and how overpowering the whole structure felt. I had goosebumps. I cried. It was like my eyes could not feast enough on the church. We walked around and I exclaimed over the flying buttresses and we sat at a cafe, close enough so I could keep looking, enjoying drinks before we walked back to our attic.
Every day we stopped by the cathedral. On Sunday we went to mass and I was filled with wonder again. I could not — and still cannot — get over the fact that men, people living and breathing just like me, made this over two hundred years. It made me feel small, but also a part of something larger and greater. Here I am, a mere student, but also a Catholic, a true lover of Western Civilization and everything it stands for, appreciating one of its greatest accomplishments. I prayed to God and took holy communion in the same church many have done before me since the 13th century.
I was checking the Boston Marathon results after CrossFit when I saw the Notre Dame was on fire. Marathon forgotten I checked to see if it were true. I cannot blame pregnancy hormones for how much I cried over that church yesterday. I love the Notre Dame and I love what it stands for. I hate throwing around words like “awe” and “sublime,” but there I felt those things. There I physically felt the sense of something greater. It devastated me to know that it will never be the same.
I’ll admit now I feel angry. As everyone mourns (and Macron claims it will be rebuilt), I want to point out this cathedral has been neglected for years. After visiting Paris and the experience I had at the Notre Dame, I learned how little money the church had to keep up with repairs. I learned that the Friends of Notre Dame frequently went to Americans for help with upkeep.
I can only suspect this comes from taking the cathedral for granted the way western civilization as a whole is taken for granted. I cannot help but feel frustrated with those who see the damage done to the Notre Dame as a great loss, but do not connect that to the loss and negligence of the culture that helped to create such a structure.