Paris is a city everyone knows, whether you’ve been there or not. With its cafe-lined streets and wrought iron balconies, it’s a bucket-list destination with an undeniable allure. So when the Notre Dame cathedral, one of its most precious landmarks, caught ablaze on Monday, it was not only the French who felt the pain.
Whether you were on the streets of Paris or following the news on your phone, watching the over 850 year old piece of history burn was heart-wrenching. The fire was put out later that evening — the two towers, the rose windows which date back to 1260, and much of the art was saved — but the spire had toppled to the ground in flames. French President Macron has vowed to rebuild in the next five years and a contest to redesign the iconic piece is already underway.
For many, this tragic event conjured up memories of when they visited what the French often call, “Our Lady.” Celebrities, and regular folks alike, took to social media to share those happy times and send messages of love to France.
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I will never forget the first time I walked into the Notre Dame Cathedral. I was a teenager on a school trip to Paris. It was my very first international trip, and until then, I hadn’t seen much outside of the South Side neighborhood I grew up in. But the majesty of Notre Dame—the history, the artistry, the spirituality—took my breath away. The feeling was almost indescribable—a place that lifts you to a higher understanding of who we are and who we can be. Every time I’ve visited in the years since, including as First Lady, I felt the same thing. So being here in Paris tonight, my heart aches with the people of France. Yet I know that the Notre Dame I experienced all those years ago, as so many others have over the centuries, will soon awe us again.
Michelle Obama, who was actually in Paris at the time, posted a photo of her, Barack, and a young Sasha and Malia lighting candles inside the church on Instagram. She wrote about how when she visited Notre Dame as a teenager, it took her breath away — and how it has done the same every time since. “The feeling was almost indescribable — a place that lifts you to a higher understanding of who we are and who we can be,” her caption read.
Hundreds of others posted pics of their Notre Dame visits. Some were as little as two days before the fire, while others dug up images from their photo archives. Christie Brinkley posted pics of her and her children smiling in front of the structure years ago, while Glenn Close wrote: “Until this moment, I didn’t realize how much it has meant to me, knowing it was there, seemingly indestructible. My heart goes out to all French men and women, to all Parisians everywhere, who are shocked and grieved by such a terrible blow to the heart of their city…their country.”
While the brave fireman are the true heroes of this story, the collective honoring of this historic treasure may have helped ease some of the sadness. In times likes these, it’s nice to know that social media can have a positive side.
See some of the heartfelt posts below.
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I know this is an inspired representation of an even greater divinity. I know this blessed place is a human-made interpretation of what is mysterious, unknowable, and undefinable and while seeing her burn brings tears to my eyes, I know even flames cannot diminish her sacredness. Still, not her. Please. Not her. #notredame #ourlady
I took this photo 2 nights ago. pic.twitter.com/lV8kMI2Iu4— Nada Bakos (@nadabakos) April 15, 2019
Buildings like Notre-Dame carry the seeds of history and civilization. Devastated with the news coming from Paris this afternoon. My fictional friend Quasimodo I can feel your tears from this other side of the Atlantic. My French friends: you are not alone ❤️ pic.twitter.com/5pZtF2q9Hg— Nina Garcia (@ninagarcia) April 15, 2019
I’m so sad learning the Notre Dame news. We went for New Years. The history and detail from centuries ago was so captivating, it made it hard to leave. These panels are from the 14th century, preserved and beloved for so long… pic.twitter.com/psueJFrN4Y— Chantel McCabe (@ChantelMcCabeGC) April 15, 2019
I never actually saw #NotreDame in person. It is quite a shock to begin to recognise that I will never see it as it once stood. I wonder how many people are sharing this realisation today.— Tom Gerken is okay i guess (@TWGerken) April 15, 2019