This past week the big news was the massive burning of one of the most beloved and historical tourist buildings in the world – the Cathedral of Notre Dame. As people watched live on TV from all corners of the world, and shared images online on social media, everyone was in sad awe and shock to see the great building burning and parts of it collapsing, smoke billowing in thick waves up in the sky, people in Paris smelling the fire burn, praying in song for its survival. A collective sense of sadness was felt all around, for both the people who have visited the place and seen its size and beauty first hand, and from the people that have not yet visited this 850 years old church, but wanted to see it in all its glory one day.
Watching on TV the building’s spires come down, I was reminded of the time when Imran and I visited the Cathedral and how it had provided sanctuary for us from a major rain storm in Paris that day. We’d been seeing the Cathedral from all parts of Paris, especially when by the river, as the large building towers on the side of the Seine, and on our 5th day in Paris, we decided to go to the Cathedral during our trip to Paris in December 2017, except it was a rainy day as we left the hotel to make our way to the church. We took an umbrella and by the time we reached the building, the line up was pretty long and we had to wait to get inside. At the same time as we reached there, huge drops of rain started falling, drenching parts of me that were not covered by our one umbrella being shared by 2 people. As I started getting drenched, I looked at the Cathedral wanting to get shelter in it to get away from the heavy rain. We inched our way closer and were finally in, and one of the first things we came across was a heat vent on the floor- stepping on this and warming up instantly was a blessing. The beautiful, vast Cathedral warmed us up on a very cold and rainy December day in Paris.
The inside is just as beautiful as the outside – full of details and beautifully colored stained glass windows – the largest I’d seen in the world. We lit candles and walked across the large hallways looking at statues and sepulchers of historical figures (Joan of Arc), in awe of the large pipe organ that’s at the front of the church, and the large medieval display of what life looked like when the Cathedral was first created (all the little people animated and moving). Another important detail I remember was the sound of a man on the speaker coming on every few minutes, imploring us with his “Silenco, silenco, silenco”, making sure no one was speaking loudly in this quiet place of worship. At the end, we sat in the pews people watching for a while, as people prayed, as Philippine nuns walked around in their grey tunics, admiring the intricacies of the building, as young couples lit candles and said a prayer before moving on – we were not ready just yet to go back out into the cold, hoping the rain stopped before we stepped out.
We made sure to warm up on the vents on the floor before making our way out to a brighter, less cloudy sky than when we’d entered. The Cathedral provided perfect sanctuary to us in the height of the passing rain storm, and we came back out to a beautiful day filled with people all around, taking pictures of the church and its large bell towers. We made sure we too snapped some beautiful pictures of this huge, beautiful building before making our way to a cafe to warm up. The last thing I remember was the long, long lineups outside the building, people waiting to check out the church, now that he rain clouds had lifted.