"Even non-Catholics go to see it."
Catholics all over the world are one with the French people in their grief over the Notre Dame cathedral fire that almost brought down the iconic landmark that to historians was the symbol of France itself.
Next to or at par with the Eiffel Tower, the Notre Dame cathedral is the most visited place in Paris registering 13-million visitors a year. French President Emmanuel Macron was at the scene as firefighters worked feverishly to save the 800-year-old Gothic architcture landmark. Many of the historic artifacts were saved and deposited at the Louvre for safekeeping.
“I share your sadness, I share your hope,” said President Macron in his address to the nation even as he vowed that Notre Dame will be rebuilt to be even more beautiful. Funds of contributions estimated at millions of dollars and euros have started to pour in for the church’s rehabilitation. France’s wealthy businessmen right after the fire Monday have committed $700 million for the cathedral’s restoration.
The cause of the blaze which started at the rooftop where a church spire was destroyed has yet to be determined. Fire marshals and officials said the fire was likely accidental as the centuries-old cathedral was undergoing repair and rehabilitation for its decaying parts wrought by the elements of weather.
The Cathedral was built in 1603 under the reign of King Louis XIV in honor of the Virgin Mary. Notre Dame in French means Mother Mary, Other interesting historical facts about Notre Dame.This is the place where Napoleon Bonaparte was crowned king and Joan of Arc was beatified as a saint. She was the quintessential French heroine remembered for waging battle against the British.
The classic novel “ The Hunchback of Notre Dame” written by Victor Hugo added to the lore of the world famous cathedral. I was never posted in Paris but postings in Brussels and London, two great cities nearby, allowed me whenever possible to make frequent trips to the City of Lights. From Brussels, Paris over land is a mere three-hour drive while the English Channel crossing was slightly longer. Crossing the Channel with your car in the hull and watching the White Cliffs of Dover disappearing in the distance as you stand on the deck of the ferry gave the water crossing a sense of romance. At the other side of the channel was the French port of Calais where the cars on board the ferry are released for the continued short drive to Paris. But the aura of romance in the crossing itself is gone with the construction of a modern rail link called the Chunnel which commuters prefer because of the speed of travel between London and Paris.
The Notre Dame, like the Eiffel Tower, was a symbol of France. Located on an island on the Seine River called the Ille de Cite, my wife Maridel and I, during trips to France, had attended Mass at Notre Dame at least thrice. From Notre Dame we would cross on foot on one of several bridges to walk around and explore to look for some bargain price relics or souvenirs on the other side. That side also has some of the finest restaurants for French cuisine.
Diplomatic assignments in Hungary, Poland and Belgium which are Europe’s Catholic countries have given me my share of seeing the world’s most beautiful churches like Saint Matthias church and St. Stephen’s cathedral in Budapest. St. Mary’s church in Krakow is a sight to behold with its stained glass windows and its masterpiece painted ceiling But it is Notre Dame in Paris which is the mother of all these Catholic churches in Europe. Even non-Catholics like those of the Islamic faith go into the Notre Dame which is open to the public.
People who have gone into the Notre Dame can relate to what happened to the Cathedral as they watched via CNN television, from the comfort of their living room, how flames ate up the roof of the historic landmark.
There is an adage that you have not been to Paris if you have been remiss in not going to the Notre Dame cathedral. This cannot be said of the Eiffel Tower where the locals and foreign tourists have to line up and pay for the elevator ride to the topmost part. Besides, the just-as-iconic tower can be seen from afar in most places in Paris particularly the Trocadero where if you are lucky you can get a table at the several sidewalk cafés. This is the beauty of life in the City of Lights—sipping wine or an expresso while watching people from all walks of life go by.
A friendly piece of advice to the men: Don’t strain your eyes too much watching only Paris pulchritude sashay on the street. That guy with the beret on his head could be just as interesting as he might be a famous writer or painter. Ah, Paree!