The first time I went to Paris, France, I had two weeks notice. I determined to read two books before I went. I finished Simon Schama’s 950-page "Citizens: A Chronicle of the French Revolution." Sadly, Victor Hugo’s "Hunchback of Notre Dame" wasn’t going to happen, but I shoved it in my backpack to take with me.
After landing, we went to our hotel — built in 1480. Unable to access our rooms, we deposited our luggage and went straight to Notre Dame. Situated on an island, the Île de la Cité, it is located in the center — the heart and soul — of Paris. We crossed the open plaza to the magnificent Gothic structure with its twin towers and flying buttresses, and wandered in and outside the iconic cathedral. The soaring interior, in the shape of a cross, intentionally raises your eyes heavenward to its vaulted ceilings and beautiful stained-glass windows, with light flooding the otherwise dark space.
After two hours there, we strolled by the Seine back to our hotel. I climbed narrow, lopsided circular stairs that wound past the shared third-floor bathroom, ending at a fifth-story single room. Its sharply sloping roof was perfectly aligned to guarantee conking your head on the beams each morning. There was a rickety chair, a tiny primordial sink, myriad exposed pipes, and just enough space to open my suitcase yet still barely maneuver the room. The floor slanted. The walls were crazily un-plumb. But at one end was a carved-out space with a small hazy-glassed window that only unwillingly creaked open. Accessible only by hunching over and creeping forward, it offered captivating views of countless rooftops, narrow, winding streets dotted with small outdoor cafes and patisseries, a glimpse of the Seine, and a slice of the cathedral. It was so perfectly European — reeking of old, history oozing from its walls, antiquated and charming in a rundown sort of way — and I loved it.
We freshened up, wandered the streets and returned to the cathedral for a glorious bell tower concert and an early evening organ recital. It was an otherworldy experience to listen to the bells chime, and hear haunting, medieval and baroque melodies while gazing up at the nave, the ribbed vaults, decorative tracery, and magnificent statuary of the cathedral — an experience I will never forget.
The next morning we visited the Musee D’Orsay followed by a return to Notre Dame for a later Bell Tower Tour. The 422-step climb offered picturesque views of quirky, creepy gargoyles and the massive tower bells, and opened to a panoramic terrace offering stunning views of the city. The cathedral was far and away my favorite memory in Paris.
On my flight home I settled in my seat and eagerly cracked open "The Hunchback of Notre Dame." Caught up in the excitement and fervor of a tale featuring Notre Dame, the ill-fated Quasimodo and tragic Esmeralda, I somberly finished the book shortly before landing. Hugging it to my chest I silently vowed, “Now, I have to go back to Notre Dame.” And I have.
The fire that recently gutted this beautiful edifice was wrenching for me. I mourned with many others as I saw the cathedral engulfed in flames. While I love the beauties of nature, for me, there’s something about European cityscapes — their enduring architecture, romance and history melded into the very stones of the streets and the buildings.
Everyone has mentioned the seeming irony of Notre Dame burning during the Holy Week leading up to Easter. When I saw images of the gutted, ebony-charred interior I was aghast. But amid the ruins shone the spectacular gold cross, still sitting behind the altar and still radiant among the ruins.
Notre Dame Cathedral represents many things. It is one of the world’s iconic architectural gems. It symbolizes France and the spirit of the French people. It embodies endurance and hope. But when all is said and done, let us never forget what its builders and workers intended. Everything about the cathedral is meant to turn viewers minds and hearts to God. From exterior facades to interior vistas, it represents mankind’s feeble, devoted and devotional attempts to construct a monument that venerates Jesus Christ as Son of God.
Seeing the still luminous luster of that gold cross in the temporarily blackened and hollowed out cathedral ought to remind us that Easter is not about a dying or a dead Jesus. It is about a Savior who shed the effects of the cross and rose from the dead, having atoned for our sins.Comment on this story
Jesus lives. He is the light and the life of the world. His suffering was not without meaning or purpose. His resurrection proves the reality of our eventual resurrection, even exaltation, if we choose to follow him and obey his commandments.
French President Emmanuel Macron promised that Notre Dame will be rebuilt — and will be more beautiful than before. What better time than Easter, for each of us to renew our devotion to Jesus Christ, the one, true beacon of light in a sometimes confusing and darkening world. Then, just as Notre Dame will rise from the ruins, so too will we rise to become beautiful and glorious, fashioned in the image of the Savior of the world.