American in Paris: Last Glimpse of Notre Dame Before the Fire

Four Days Before the Notre Dame Fire

Notre Dame Cathedral called to me from the moment I arrived in Paris, April 11, 2019 (just in time for Holy Week leading up to Easter). For one reason or another, I was drawn to Our Lady of Paris every single day. After dinner on our first night my husband and I wandered, jet lagged and wired, through the rowdy streets of the Latin Quarter, to find the cathedral lit up and glowing and hardly a soul there. How lucky were we to have her all to ourselves? It was a mild spring night and I took my time drinking her in as the lights cast dramatic shadows, highlighting her angles and curves.

Jessica O’Toole in front of Notre Dame Cathedral, Thursday, April 11, 2019
Notre Dame on the Seine River, April 11, 2019

Three Days Before the Notre Dame Fire

The next day (our first full day in Paris) we decided we had to go back to Notre Dame for a look inside. Walking through the front door felt like stepping into a different world, as we left the bright, sunny courtyard and entered a dark, stony, cavernous church. My eyes traveled up past the giant columns, chandeliers, and arches; up the limestone walls to the second floor balcony and more arches and more columns; up the ornate stained glass windows– until they reached the ceiling (157 feet high!) and rib vaults, which are beautiful and functional, distributing the massive weight of the roof. It was a lot to take in (Notre Dame IS the largest cathedral in Paris).

Inside Notre Dame Cathedral, April 12, 2019
Stained Glass Rose Window, Notre Dame, April 12, 2019
Stained Glass Windows of Notre Dame, April 12, 2019
Stained Glass Windows of Notre Dame, April 12, 2019
Stained Glass Windows of Notre Dame, April 12, 2019
Saint Joan of Arc, The Patron Saint of France, April 12, 2019
Carved Walls Enclosing the Choir, Notre Dame, April 12, 2019
Carvings of The Last Supper, Notre Dame, April 12, 2019
Priests in the Sacristy, Notre Dame, April 15, 2019
Priests in the Sacristy, Notre Dame, April 12, 2019

Watching Notre Dame Burn

We were in a hurry, hustling across the city by foot. I remember it was the warmest day of our entire trip. Sometime after 6:00pm my husband and I scurried past the front of Notre Dame Cathedral. Everything looked normal — streets crowded with tourists, rush hour traffic whizzing by. We arrived at the Pompidou Center (a colossal museum of modern and contemporary art) just in time to catch sunset on the 6th floor, which boasts “the best views of Paris.” The panoramic view was spectacular, but what was that sickly billowing smoke drifting across the sky? Something was on fire, and the strange brownish-yellow color was very ominous. I scanned the horizon looking for the source of the smoke and literally gasped in horror — it was Notre Dame Cathedral! My husband and I stood, frozen in shock next to another couple, watching as flames snaked out of the spire and smoke billowed from the roof. It was truly a surreal experience.

Jessica O’Toole in the Picasso exhibit, Pompidou Centre, Paris, April 15, 2019
Sunset and Smoke, Paris, April 15, 2019
Fire at Notre Dame, April 15, 2019
Len and Jessica O’Toole in front of Notre Dame, April 12, 2019

I like to learn all the things and drink all the tea. Prone to falling down rabbit holes. https://jessicathemaven.com

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