A worldwide relic, sacred to the hearts of the Catholic community, caught on fire Monday. People all around the world watched, shocked and hurt for the citizens of Paris, France.
The Notre-Dame de Paris (Our Lady of Paris), a medieval Catholic cathedral in the 4th arrondissement of Paris, experienced what reporters are calling “colossal damage” after the central spire of the structure went up in flames and toppled to the ground.
According to CNN live reporting, the fire alarm sounded at 6:20 p.m. local time during a mass being held at the cathedral. The congregation evacuated and 400 firefighters rushed to the scene.
The fire was finally extinguished at 9:30 a.m. local time on Tuesday after nine hours attempting to put it out. Two policemen and a firefighter were injured, but no one else was hurt.
The cause of the fire is unknown, and an investigation has begun. Authorities have ruled out the possibility of any intentional act but instead consider it a tragic accident.
However, the 800-year-old cathedral’s most cherished artifacts survived the fire, including the Crown of Thorns, believed to have been worn by Jesus during the passion of Christ, the Tunic of Saint Louis, the bell towers, the organ and the priceless artwork.
Donors have already raised millions of dollars for reconstruction.
Tom Simonds, S.J., a professor and associate chair of the Department of Education, visited the Notre Dame Cathedral in 1987 after graduating from Creighton in May of that year.
He said that he has spoken to many affected by this disaster, and he described it as a feeling that “something close to them is gone.”
“So many of life’s important moments are celebrated in churches with family and friends,” Simonds said. “The loss of the church building can feel like a significant part of your life history has been affected in a negative way. The church building often also has important meaning in the neighborhood and city as a place for prayer, meeting and as a symbol of God’s presence. The loss of a church building definitely affects the wider community.”
Simonds also reflected on his experience seeing the beauty of the building in person.
“Thinking back to my long ago visit to Notre Dame, I remember the beautiful stained glass windows,” he said. “Standing in the church, I was amazed at the size of the space. At Creighton, we think of Saint John’s as being a large space, but Notre Dame is so much larger that the scale of the building itself is hard to take in.”
Charles Kestermeier, S.J., a part-time faculty member in the Creighton English Department, spent four years in France studying theology and completing his Ph.D. research in the 6th arrondissement.
Kestermeier said that he has been in the building about four times, and when he heard the news, he felt “depressed.”
“It’s not exactly like losing a family member all of the sudden,” he said. “How would you feel if you woke up all of the sudden and Creighton Hall had burned down, or St. John’s? That’s Creighton. That’s me. My home has been hurt, a home to so many people who value this place. My heart is kind of ripped out.”
As someone very familiar with Paris, Kestermeier said that it is the cathedral of the “most important diocese in Paris.”
“It was familiar. It was taken care of,” he said. “It’s not tremendously beautiful; it’s beloved.”
Laura Catano, a College of Arts and Sciences senior, visited the cathedral in May 2017 for a faculty-led program abroad. She said she felt a sinking feeling upon hearing the news.
“I never thought something like this could happen,” Catano said. “This [meant] a lot to me because it is one of if not the most beautiful place I have ever been to. I had so many great memories there which I think is why it struck me so much.”
That being said, she wanted to reiterate that with every tragedy comes faith and optimism.
“I think that even though it is a tragedy that this occurred, there is a lot of hope,” Catano said. “There has been a lot of strife in Paris recently, and I think that this is an opportunity for everyone to come together under one event and one cause. “
Kaitlin Carlson, a College of Arts and Sciences senior, went on the same trip with Catano in summer 2017, and said she visited the cathedral multiple times during her visit.
“My initial reaction was nonchalant, almost brushing the news aside,” Carlson said. “But I ended up opening [an] article and seeing the pictures of how massive the fire actually was. It was surreal to see something so iconic be destroyed by something so natural.”
Carlson said that she made sure to keep up with the fire’s progression, as it meant a lot to her personally and to her Catholic faith.
“Feeling personally connected to a space as sacred as that cathedral—even in the minute and almost insignificant way that I am—has me heartbroken.”