The day dawned cool but clear, tendrils of fog drifting off the Seine. After a quick croissant breakfast, we made our way to Notre Dame Cathedral to be among the first to visit on a Paris morning two years ago.
The pre-opening crowd of about a dozen was split evenly between tourists like ourselves and penitents, including two nuns. Gothic cathedrals are a particular favorite of mine, and visiting Notre Dame was high on the list during our brief, two-day visit to Paris.
Like millions of others around the world, I experienced a profound feeling of loss when learning about the devastating fire at Notre Dame, which will cost billions to repair. According to French President Emmanuel Macron, there is no question that the 800-year-old cathedral will be rebuilt. Cries rang out from the yellow vests and others who believe that money would be better spent assuaging social ills in the republic.
Both sides have merits, but Notre Dame remains one of the most indelible icons of Paris, along with the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre and the Champs-Élysées. It’s more than a building and more than a religious relic. Failing to rebuild it would be like failing to rebuild the Lincoln Memorial or the Statue of Liberty. When the twin towers fell, there was no question that the World Trade Center would be rebuilt.
On the day of our visit, a prayer service began at 8 a.m., filling the cathedral with sweet singing, a perfect accompaniment to the early morning light filtering into the worship space.
More than 850 years in the making, the cathedral got its start in the 1160s before receiving its Gothic makeover in the 14th century. For many, Notre Dame represents the quintessential Gothic cathedral—massive rose windows, vaulted ceiling linked by capstones, massive pipe organ, stained glass aplenty and gargoyles that, fortunately for us, weren’t spitting water that morning.
Looking back, I feel fortunate to have had the opportunity to see Notre Dame in all of its glory. While I’m certain it will be restored, it will never be the same.