The Nostalgia of the Notre-Dame
This is the Notre-Dame de Paris –
Standing proudly on the Île de la Cité, Notre-Dame is arguably the heart of Paris. The city wakes to bells as the flying buttresses and glorious rose stained-glass windows loom over the rushing Seine. The Cathedral has been a place of worship, of births, of deaths, of celebration, since its completion in 1345. Notre-Dame has watched, consistent and stable, as Paris has grown to the city it is today.
The two towers once stood as the highest structures in Paris until the construction of the Eiffel tower in 1889. Now they invite visitors inside, through the incredibly intricate illustration of the Last Judgement overarching the doors of the iconic western facade.
Inside, layers of intricate arches and alcoves dance with light from the soaring clerestory windows and rib vaults of the nave. Iconography surrounds you as glowing candles illuminate side chapels adorned with glorious painted skies.
Well it was, before the horrific fire in 2019 changed the face of this icon forever – and destroyed the fabled 13th century spire.
Surrounded by beautifully patinated copper statues representing the 12 apostles and topped with a rooster reliquary – the spire was unmissable, overlooking the Seine as it flowed to the east of the city. Thankfully, the apostles had been removed for restoration prior to the fire, with the rooster found intact within the rubble – still containing a tiny piece from the Crown of Thorns and the relics of Saint Denis and Saint Genevieve – patron saints of Paris.
I know each visitor to Paris will have their own memories of visiting Notre-Dame. For me, to be standing in front of the Notre-Dame was an achievement. I had made it to a point in my growth where I was in the midst of Paris on my first overseas adventure. I was a long way from the home and standing within centuries of history that had inspired countless writers and artists. This is what travel has become for me – an accomplishment and a privilege. To place myself within the depths of history and civilisation – discovering what it is to be outside of myself.
I feel that as the world gets smaller – this is the experience of many tourists to Paris. For some, travelling to the other side of the world was never a possibility until now – and looking out over the Parisian skyline to the Eiffel Tower aside 11th century gargoyles is the embodiment of a dream come true.
This was certainly the case for my parents who before 2018 had never visited Europe, let alone travelled that far from home themselves. Being witness to their excitement and astonishment as they showed me photos of their climb up the bell towers was absolutely heart warming.
Many of these photos come from the few times I have had the pleasure of visiting Paris and the Notre-Dame between 2013 – 2018, each time discovering something new – be it the secret crypt and archaeological site hidden beneath the ground, or the joys of sitting on the banks of the river on a sunny afternoon – sipping from a bottle of champagne, looking back towards the Île de la Cité. Paris is filled with so much beauty of all sorts and I feel so privileged to hold onto these glorious memories.
Maybe this nostalgia partly explains why the world was so quick to come the aid of Notre-Dame after the recent fire?
This was not without criticism however. Whilst many took the opportunity to take to social media to share their memories of ‘Our Lady of Paris’, others felt that such nostalgia was an act of gloating or self promotion, finding it frustrating that they felt other important world events were not receiving similar support and attention.
But I would argue that the fire of Notre-Dame saw something incredibly beautiful spread across the world. Discussions of the shared wonder that travel has to offer, a solid example of people working together to achieve a common goal and the power of globalisation.
Isn’t it magical that one building can mean so much to so many?