Our Lady of Paris

By Jess LaVopa and Christian Alexander

The Notre-Dame cathedral in Paris. Photo from 2018 before the fire (Photo by Nekiyah Chester).

Almost a year ago, while studying abroad in France, I stood at the foot of La cathédrale de Notre-Dame. I watched onward as a line of hundreds waiting to enter this monument snaked across the property. I was hesitant to hop in line, as it was an excruciatingly hot June day. However, with the shadow cast from this 425-foot high Gothic masterpiece and the sheer beauty and magnitude of this Parisian landmark, time and temperature became the least of my concerns.

I couldn’t help but stop in my tracks and gaze up at the magnificent architecture. Titling my glasses down so I could see each carved gargoyles and religious figures expressions, I didn’t think the inside could be more beautiful than the outside.

Notre-Dame is one of Paris’s greatest attractions and one of the most recognized forms of French Gothic architecture. It was built in 1160 during the reign of King Louis VII. With its vibrant stain glass windows, delicately carved pillars and statues, and the buildings wondrous air of faith, joy, and praise, Notre-Dame was an unforgettable experience and one that lifted my spirits.

Even before stepping foot inside the cathedral, I could hear the hum of hymns being sung and the slow roar of an organ warming up. Within seconds, I was my 5-year-old self again, heading off to church with my mother.

As I tip-toed around the masterpiece that I deemed too precious to fully step on, I gazed mouth wide open at the massive bright blue and soft rose shades of light that flooded the interior of the church. Each piece of stained glass placed within the structure of the building was a piece of history.

Looking up past the windows, towards the ceiling, I almost fell over from looking straight up. I actually lost my group of friends because I got lost in a different world staring up at the ceiling, experiencing a depth of the space that others didn’t acknowledge. For some reason in that moment, I felt compelled to light a candle.

Lighting one of the small prayer candles, I watched the flame light up the glass red container the wax was concealed in. Quietly, I moved into one of the many alcoves off to the side of the main walkway of the cathedral and found a spot on a pew. As I sat down, the bench squeaked and bent from my weight and I could feel the boards beginning to loosen up after years of not being used.

Before closing my eyes to pray, I looked around the room to take in the sights of the two large statues that bordered each side of the small altar. To my surprise, a woman towards the back, maybe in her early 50s with dark gray hair, was on her knees. Her head was bowed in prayer. Moments before, I actually thought she was a statue herself.

As I sat, my feet finally firmly placed on the ground, hands clasped together, I began to feel the presence of others coming to sit and join me.

The feeling of community and joy, complemented by the heavy but beauteous melodies from the organ surrounded me with happiness. When I left to leave, I slipped a gold euro coin into the wooden donation box, before looking back to see if the woman kneeling behind me was still there. She was.

As I exited that large arched door of the cathedral, leaving my peers to wander through the gift shop, I found a spot on the ground next to a police officer. Sitting in front of Notre-Dame, having the chime of the church bells wave over me, I felt at home.

The fire that broke out at the Notre-Dame cathedral in Paris on Monday is a tragedy and a day that will not be forgotten.

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