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Our Lady in Mourning

Today the world witnessed the burning of one of its most treasured and beloved monuments.  More than a just a cathedral or a symbol of France, Notre Dame was (is!) a home to those who needed a place to connect with history and faith and themselves for over 850 years.

Notre Dame South Facade Oct 2018

The incredible detail on the south facade (and some of the scaffolding) from October 2018.  Photo by Michelle Keel. 


There will be thousands of articles written about today’s tragedy and one could argue that I need not come out of exile to add to the list.  But I have to express what Notre Dame means to an individual who loves her and her city.

As you know I’m a fervent Francophile and travel to Paris as frequently as the budget allows.  The one place that is always on the list, no matter what, is Notre Dame.  I don’t usually talk about it–though my friends know I went again–but it is my own personal touchstone.  The place that means I’m absolutely in Paris.  The place where I give thanks for being fortunate enough to travel there once more.  Before he passed I would think about how much my armchair-archaeologist father would love it, though his health meant he couldn’t see it.  After he passed I lit a candle each time I visited, feeling him there at last.  And in October I lit two candles, knowing both Mom and Dad were there with me on the journey.

In 2007, Mom and I attended a (surprisingly boring) illumination show.  My now-ex and I tackled climbing the tower on our honeymoon.  I had to bail out – I actually got motion sick going round and round on the medieval stairs!  My brother and I swung by in his determination to see all the sites (and the entire Louvre) on our visit.  I’ve eaten lunch on the plaza out front, been hit on by a very determined dude in the back garden, pondered the passage of time while gazing at the age-worn exterior, wondered how many people had seen the sunlight glow through the stained glass.

Notre Dame Interior Oct 2018

Notre Dame Interior Detail.  Photo by Michelle Keel

My stories are only a few of the infinite number that Notre Dame has been witness to.  They are admittedly more humble than Napoleon crowning himself Emperor or revolutionaries chopping heads off statues or, more impressively, the two hundred years of construction.  She has touched the lives of hundreds of millions of people over the centuries and serenely observed nearly a millennium of Parisian history.  Open to anyone who wanted to come in, she provided solace to the faithful,  first-hand history to the curious, and a gathering place for the people of Paris in times of need.  She is without equal.

Notre Dame Fire - SF Gate

As the gargoyles look on.  Photo by Thomas Samson, AFP/Getty Images

Her loss is France’s loss.  It is my loss.  It is the world’s loss.  The loss of a place of worship, of immense historical treasure, of architectural splendor, of a symbol for the French people.  We’ll find out in the coming days the true impact of a fire that destroyed 850 years of creation in a matter of hours.  There are conflicting images now of a possibly mostly saved interior and of a gutted out shell of a building.  Is the truth in the middle?

It may take more than what is left of my lifetime to rebuild her to her new glory.  But rise again she must.  For all of us.