I know no one was hurt, and that’s so important, but really: how devastating in every sense of the word.

The Fabulous Wife and I last visited Paris in 2006. We went with The Awesome Sister and her family. Going to Notre Dame was genuinely sacred to The Awesome Sister’s husband, who was Roman Catholic, and to their two kids, who had never experienced the grandeur and hush of a European cathedral. It helped that we were there during Holy Week with its high spiritual aura. Since we were staying on the Ile de la Cité, we visited Notre Dame multiple times, touring the main floor, climbing the endless spiral staircase to the roof, and attending Easter Mass.

At dusk.
Near the top.

We saw the Crown of Thorns at a Good Friday service. It was inside a clear crystal ring (halo?) that was in turn encased in gold filigree. Two priests held the relic as one after another, worshipers approached from the pews and kissed it. After each kiss, the priests discretely wiped the crystal clean. With loving care, they lowered the Crown for children and wheelchair users to kiss. A child in a stroller began wailing after its mother finished her show of devotion, its cries echoing before getting swallowed up by the enormous nave. In all a humbling sight, some of the most eloquent testimony I’ve ever witnessed to the longing for transcendence.

I didn’t take pictures of the interior. That enormous nave was kept dark, too dark to take photos without a disruptive flash, and I’m too respectful to use flash in sacred spaces.

But the real advantage of staying near Notre Dame was hearing its bells. The carillonist(s) would give short concerts around 8:15 pm, as Parisians were enjoying dinner. The music was rhythmic and dissonant, the chords similar to those in the works of early twentieth century French composers. Which came first, the compositions for the bells, or those by Debussy, Ravel, and Milhaud? Who influenced whom? It hardly mattered. The sound was magical. At times the bells sounded like trumpets, only to fade at the end, giving way to one tolling bell. One such performance followed a couple of hours of gorgeous a cappella singing from the square in front of the cathedral.

Now those bells lie in ruins. Sigh.

It sounds like Notre Dame’s two front towers will survive. I have no doubt the rest of the cathedral will be rebuilt. But who knows whether the new cathedral will look, feel, sound, and inspire the way the old one did? I’m so grateful I had the chance to experience that wonder of human spiritual and artistic ambition.

Former Risk Manager at UC Berkeley, author of four books, ectomorphic introvert.

Former Risk Manager at UC Berkeley, author of four books, ectomorphic introvert.