Students from French exchange share Notre Dame memories

On Monday morning, around 6:20pm, a fire broke out at the iconic Notre Dame cathedral in Paris, France. Around 9:30am the following morning, French officials announced that the fire had finally been extinguished. A large portion of the church was damaged beyond recognition, including the wooden roof, built in the 13th century, and spire on top of it, built in the 19th century, which actually fell to the ground as the roof caved in. The church, which started construction in 1160, and took roughly 100 years to build, is considered one of the most impressive and well preserved monuments of its time period. Fortunately, much of the church is in relatively good condition, including most of its stained glass, which is more than 800 years old. French president Emmanuel Macron issued a statement saying that he wants Notre Dame rebuilt in the next 5 years. France’s Prime Minister Edouard Philippe has announced an international architects’ competition to rebuild, and perhaps make an entire different, spire for the cathedral. Renovation costs are still not known, but the funds to repair the iconic church are already about to reach 1 billion dollars, with 700 million of those dollars coming from the three richest families within France. The church is typically a part of many peoples’ visits to France, and SPA students were able to visit just weeks ago on the French exchange trip. Below are the reactions to the news from two SPA students, Lucia Granja and Noah Raaum. Raaum’s piece was published in the Star Tribune as part of a tribute piece to the church, which is linked below.

Lynn Reynolds
Sophomore Lynn Reynolds standing in front of Notre Dame. “I am really grateful to have seen it before the fire.”

Lucia Granja, Sophomore

Exactly a month ago, I was in France for a school trip. Our hotel was half a mile from Notre Dame, and we had been in Paris for a couple of days, so we had seen Notre Dame at a distance.  Something about the architecture was striking, even in the brief glances I had caught. Maybe it was the plaza that separated the church from surrounding small cafes and shops, putting Notre Dame up on a pedestal.  But the giant church was completely different up close. Notre Dame was intimidating, in its epic arches, gargoyles and dim lighting. Our chaperones allowed us two hours of free time to wander around the giant.

I made a circuit of the interior of the church with my friend, then we decided to explore the outside.  This walk around the Notre Dame was my favorite part of the church. I think it took away the pressure of being in the presence of such a famous building.  There is a small garden behind Notre Dame that no one ever talks about. Through a fence, we could see the “behind of the scenes” of the Notre Dame. A man came out of a small back door to throw some cardboard boxes into the dumpsters lining the back wall.  We sat on a bench in the garden and made each other laugh for almost an hour. This informal view of the Notre Dame made my experience there more special. I got to see the face of Notre Dame, that it is a community of people united by “Our Lady.”

The destruction of Notre Dame shocked me when I first learned about it, especially since I was there so recently. While I was in France, I could see the national pride of Notre Dame, and I know that this loss will impact everyone united by this place.  But I am hopeful. I believe this community will not let Notre Dame end here. Notre Dame is made of history and memories: mine, and millions of others, which cannot be destroyed.

Noah Raaum, Junior

Notre Dame still stands tall in my memory.

The moment I walked in, its cool serenity and understated grandeur transfixed me. I stared for minutes on end at the stone ceiling that felt miles above my head. The stained glass was something else. It was so selective with the light it chose to let in; the colors and patterns and scenes were most vivid where the light was strongest.

I am not Catholic, but I worshiped this building in a way that goes beyond religion.”

— Noah Raaum

We came on a cloudy day and the cathedral felt empty. Our group dissipated into the pews and around the altars. I am not Catholic, but I worshipped this building in a way that goes beyond religion. Its age was palpable; its history bled from the cracks between the stones and enveloped me. I retreated to a pew, to take all of it in. I closed my eyes and heard the whispered echoes from the other end, poignant and desolate. I could only imagine the thunderous acoustics at full mass. I would succumb instantly to the spirit.

Then, I stepped outside. Modest gardens wrapped around her perimeter, overlooking the Seine. At the rear, beneath the flying buttresses, dozens of rustic birdhouses were planted in the dirt surrounded by evergreens. Rows of perfectly trimmed trees with benches in between stretched to the end of the island. I thought about the essence of the flying buttresses: a daring, captivating architectural triumph that signified the sureness of this building’s footing.

The damage to Notre Dame is incomprehensible. I was there just four weeks ago, for my first and last time seeing her as time intended. It pains me to imagine what France feels today.