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Your Most memorable Notre Dame de París Moment

What has been yours?

Thirty years ago after dinner, we took our sons to oogle at the outside. There was no iron gate in those days, so we were able to get under the Gothic arch doorways. Our three year old, looking up at the Biblical carvings all around him said "It's like a movie". He'd gotten the hang of it.

Posted by
384 posts

My most treasured memory of Notre Dame was the woman praying to the Virgin Mary among all the hustle and bustle of tourists. Her eyes were closed, her hands folded and her head bowed. Even as an atheist, I was moved by this simple act of faith and humility. It reminded me that I was in an actual church, not a Disneyland of religion.

My wife said to me just now, "We'll never see it again as it was in our lifetime".

Miserere nobis.

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776 posts

A flyover maybe 50 years ago from Spain with a change at Heathrow or Amsterdam or Frankfurt, I forget which, so we were not at a high elevation. The pilot (remember when they talked to passengers?) told us to look at the magnificent sight below. In the rising morning sun the Seine was an iridescent silvery ribbon around a light -bathed Notre Dame.

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2771 posts

After my own visit, bringing my mother back years later to see it. When we first went into nearby Sainte-Chappelle, she had mistakenly thought that we were headed directly to Notre Dame. Imagine her awe when she turned around.

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6505 posts

First visited over 20 years ago and I have a photo of a much younger me in front of Notre Dame. I pulled that photo up on my computer today so I could see it again. But my most memorable moment/s were in 2012 attending an evening concert by a string quartet along with a performance on the main organ by the resident organist. It was amazing and I'm not a particular fan of organ music. I'll never forget it. During that 2012 visit I also attended a Sunday church service there. I'm so glad that I had those opportunities to visit it and am sorry for those who won't be able to have that experience - at least for quite some time.

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2049 posts

One of my grandchildren texted me today to thank me for taking them to Paris (actually, it was on a RS tour) when they were youngsters and had the opportunity to see this amazing Cathedral as it was in all its glory. That along with a few subsequent visits are memories that will remain with them forever. I am returning to Paris with my two oldest granddaughters in July, one of whom has been lucky enough to visit Notre Dame a few times but the other has never been to Paris. Notre Dame is (still) the most important site on her bucket list. I am sad for all of us but feel confident, with the resiliency of the French people, the Cathedral will rise again, as it has in the past.

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1017 posts

2013, evening, the big open square in front of the church. A street musician was playing, probably about 100 people listening. In between songs, you could hear many different languages being spoken by those in the crowd. The musician started into The Beatles "Let It Be." Many started to sing along. When he got to the lines that start "I wake up to the sound of music, Mother Mary comforts me..." he laid out, letting the crowd take over. It was so beautiful. There we were, people from many countries, singing those words in unison, right in front of a beautiful church dedicated to "Our Lady" Mary...I am not Catholic, or even religious, but it struck me that for that moment, I was one with a group from the world, raising our voices about seeking comfort and wisdom from Mary. It also made me think about all the others who had come to that exact spot over the previous centuries for the exact same purpose. There were many eyes filled with tears of joy, mine included, and the thought of that moment still brings a tear to my eye.

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3444 posts

@Eric, I was just getting ready to write my favorite memory when I read your thread. We could have been there at the same time! We were there in September 2013. I will never forget the musician playing "Let it be." We were all singing. What a memorable night it was!

"When I find myself in times of trouble, Mother Mary calls to me, Speaking words of wisdom,
let it be, And in my hour of darkness she is standing right in front of me, Speaking words of wisdom, let it be."

I too am not Catholic, but it doesn't matter-- it was an evening of coming together.

Posted by
276 posts

@Eric and @Janis: Thank you for those hauntingly beautiful memories. I’ve been to ND more than a dozen times - I have a variety of memories but the thought of approaching Ile de la Cite in May (my next visit) at night and not seeing the illuminated church ... I get choked up and teary.

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776 posts

About 4 years ago, I set out very early in the morning to walk to Notre Eame from my rental, about 25 minutes. I arrived at the church just as the door were opening just before 8 am. A few devout patrons, a couple of photographers and I had the church to ourselves. As I entered the vacuum cleaner was still in the hallway, not yet put away. I treasure this memory.

Last fall I rented an apartment with a great Notre Dame view. So many beautiful photos and memories.

May she rise again to live for many generations.

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89 posts

On our last day in Paris last June we came upon a band set up in front of Notre Dame. We sat on the ground and listened to them play. They even played “Stars and Stripes Forever” which surprised us. It was so enjoyable and a nice way to wrap up our trip.

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6720 posts

On my first trip to Paris I took my then young daughter up the Tower to see the gargoyles. Was planning to take her daughter who is now 9 on the Tower climb next year.

We love the Cathedral and always make it a point to do several strolls around it at night when we are in Paris even though we no longer stay close to the center. I think the view from the back at night is one of the. most lovely sights on earth. Just heartbroken to see this lovely building so damaged, but they rebuilt the Fenice in Venice; they will be able to rebuilt Notre Dame -- just doubt I will live to see it completed.

The cite to donate to its restoration is:
https://don.fondation-patrimoine.org/SauvonsNotreDame/~mon-don?fbclid=IwAR0NPBUmdUzSyzUmiq0_e6wIPw9a0XNjnjjubyX1VaNJK-aBsqpLh8CWev4

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3444 posts

@ Eric @Shelley. We are traveling right now, but I searched back to 2013 France photos on my phone and found a video of a couple other songs the musician played that night. Unfortunately, I was too involved with singing along to "Let it be" to capture that memorable moment. I found my favorite photo of Notre Dame taken from the Seine. So special to have that photo.

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541 posts

I’ve been several times but I took my 4 year old daughter less than a week ago. My little ones go to a religious school and my 4 year old daughter was very intent on praying for her grandmother’s health and lighting a candle. I’m generally not a religious person but at that moment I was humbled.

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1058 posts

In 2009, I took my wife and daughter to Notre Dame. We visited it as the sun was setting and it glowed against the sky. The next day we were able to go inside. I remember all the candles that were lit by those offering their prayers to the Lord. Later that day we climbed the stairs to the top of the cathedral to what I consider is the best view of Paris. I could have stayed up there all day. My daughter became an Art Teacher in high school teaching AP Art History. I look back and wonder how that visit could have impacted her career. I am so blessed to have visited Notre Dame.

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154 posts

My high school marching band was asked to march in the 2000 Paris New Year's Day Parade. It was the last days of 1999, and I was a junior in high school, in Paris with my best friends and - for some unexplainable reason - a very lax chaperone policy. Armed with my Rick Steves France book (yes, really), we arrived at Notre Dame in time for it to open - only to find we were half an hour early! We had croissants in the shadow of the Cathedral, and then went inside. It was overcast that day, but the stainglass was still beautiful. I have a picture of me - eyes closed - in front of the statue of Joan of Arc. Then we climbed up the towers to the gargoyles. To be honest, my main memories are based on the pictures I took - on my non-digital camera. But I remember vividly how I felt. My junior year was the year I took AP European History, the year I switched from being interested in history to really loving it. I was 17 years old, a year and half from graduating high school and starting college. All that melded together at the top of Notre Dame - a feeling of independence, with no "adults" in sight, and a connection to the history of the Cathedral and Paris itself. I feel so lucky to have seen it as it was, and so very sad that my two boys won't.

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292 posts

I feel sad that Norte Dame won't be there when I visit next month. However, this time, I'll see the ashes. Next time, I'll see the phoenix.

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1907 posts

In 2016, I was in charge of a group that included 20 young people who received permission to perform in Notre Dame. It was also the summer the Seine rose so high that the basement flooded (along with the the Louvre closing). I am sure most people didn’t think about the basement but because the choir was due to change to uniforms down there, we went through doors and down halls most never see. The sound of their singing is a memory for me and for them to treasure - I kind of hate the phrase “a once in a lifetime opportunity”.

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1155 posts

We both had been there many times but a year ago my friend and I walked into Notre Dame and happened upon the veneration of the crown of thorns. I wasn't paying attention to the fact that it was Easter Week.
I'm not religious but I certainly did think with awe of the dozens of generations of Parisians who viewed this with true fervor and faith.

Posted by
9883 posts

I’d been to visit a number of times but 2 weeks ago I went to the Friday service for the Veneration of the Crown of Thorns. After the service started a lady sat down next to me, said something in French, then when I shook my head and said “Pas de Francais” she said oh! I will tell you what is going on. She translated a bit but truthfully I was just content to be with the service.

Then the time came for people to file down and kiss the crown. I was going to skip this as I’m not Catholic and not particularly religious but my new friend literally took my hand and pulled me down the aisle with her. Nothing would do but we must experience this together. After the service she insisted I go back to the small chapel with her and view it again. She was so terribly kind and clearly wanted me to have a full experience so I went with it.

I am always astonished at how people go out of their way for others. My heart is full today knowing my “guide” was insistent that I participate. I hope she is holding the memory of a kindness to a tourist as a memory of her Notre Dame as well.

Posted by
12960 posts

Two most memorable Notre Dame memories come immediately to mind...

  1. My first time in Paris and visiting Notre Dame in July 1973 when I was 23, above all, seeing the stained glass windows. With my Kodak Instamatic took pictures of them.

  2. In 2005 my 4 year old grandson was with us at Notre Dame in .his first trip and introduction to Paris

Posted by
7687 posts

What a lovely thread, Bets.

Mine was the first year I was living in Paris. Christmas Eve 2004, my family was visiting, so my parents, brother and sister-in-law, new boyfriend and I went to Christmas Eve service — not the midnight mass, but an earlier international service, where the liturgy , readings, and hymns and various prayers were done in different European languages - French and English, German, Spanish, probably Italian. . .

Having been raised in the (Protestant) church, and have some smatterings of some of those languages, i absolutely loved the thread of familiarity that ran through the service even if I didn’t know the exact words at a given time. And loved thinking that others who were there were more familiar, say, with the German than the English, but feeling that same familiar thread themselves.

The next year for Christmas that boyfriend (now husband)’s Sicilian Catholic mother and twin sister came to stay with me and of course they went to Notre Dame. Christmas night we were in my car driving back to my apartment from our friends’ where we had been for dinner, and drove by on the Left Bank with Notre Dame on our right-hand side. His aunt started exclaiming how she just couldn’t believe that they had gotten to go to Notre Dame, the sense of privilege she felt was palpable. Last night she called her sister (my mother-in-law) to share the horrible news. They were both weeping at the horror of the loss.

Myself I am more stunned than anything. It still doesn’t seem possible, even though I have seen the footage like everyone else.

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8293 posts

I guess it was in the mid-90's that we happened to be in Notre Dame when a choir from an American women's college was giving a performance. You could tell the young women were aware of their wonderful privilege and one of them was openly weeping. She, no doubt, is remembering that day herself and is mourning, as are we all.

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1157 posts

We've been going to Paris annually for the past 10+ years and stay at the adjacent Hotel Hospitel, 50 yards from the entrance to Notre Dame. Climbing the towers, kissing the Crown of Thorns on Good Friday, spending Christmas and enjoying the splendor of the season, entering and marveling at Notre Dame once or twice or thrice on every trip, numerous organ concerts, sitting in the courtyard munching crepes and people watching -- it's hard to pick just one. There have been so many and sadly, no more. As seniors from small town America, it's hard to explain the hold Notre Dame has on us, even a Protestants. We are in mourning to be sure.

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2038 posts

Christmas Eve mass years ago. After communion they open the center doors and you can see a Christmas Tree on the plaza in front of the cathedral. A beautiful service in a beautiful church and that moment with the doors open was wonderful.

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11975 posts

I enjoyed climbing the towers on my first visit to Paris. Lately, I enjoy taking close up pictures of small glimpses of the art and sculpture in the building. I don't think most people would recognize the photos as being from Notre Dame.

I was so glad to see the pictures from inside the church this morning. The main damage appears to be the roof. I expected, from watching the fire on TV, the entire building would be gutted.

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11450 posts

Ive really enjoyed reading the posts on this thread.. some are so exceptionally touching.. ( all are in their own way.. but some are real heart string tuggers ) ..

I dont have one memory.. but so many,, starting with my first visit as a child in 1972.. and what I recall was that I felt that is still something I ALWAYS have felt on subsequent visits.. the sense of age and history.. the feeling of walking in the foot steps of people from hundreds of years ago.. the smell , the sounds of echoing voices.. the worn smooth stones having been touched my millions of people before me for hundreds of years before

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2326 posts

Notre Dame was the first place I visited in Paris, came around the corner from the metro and there it was, in all its magnificent glory. I spent the longest time just admiring from a distance, then closer to inspect the gargoyles before going inside. I am not a religious person, but felt such a sense of awe when thinking of all the turmoil it had endured through the centuries.

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1112 posts

Paris was the first place in Europe I went to, and Notre Dame was the first “old” thing I saw the first day after checking into the hotel. Wide eyed and awed and so so young. Notre Dame represents the beginning of my adulthood and freedom, and travelling. It was the first time (first of many), that my tears filled with joy at how beautiful something was and how awed I was to be standing there.

Watching it burn yesterday was tough.

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74 posts

Arriving in Paris exactly eight years ago today and going straight to Notre Dame at about 4:00 on a Saturday afternoon. Seeing the crowds outside and the long lines I decided that was not how I wanted to experience Notre Dame for the first time. So I left and came back about 8:00 the next morning before mass. Having a place like Notre Dame almost to myself, with it's quiet majesty and the early morning light illuminating the stained glass, is a memory that sticks with me. Several months later I went back with my mom (I was living in Europe at the time and she came for a summer visit) and insisted on getting there early so she could experience it like I had. We both treasure those memories.

Interesting though, when I went back yesterday to look through my Paris pictures from those trips, I took no pictures inside the cathedral either time. I remember how important it was for me to experience it as a "spiritual pilgrimage" and for me at that time, it meant leaving my camera in my purse. While I am Protestant and not Catholic, I continue to stand in awe of the faith of the cathedral builders and their dedication to something they'd never see complete. It always strikes me when I see modern films set in Paris before the era of urban renewal, the images of the tight quarters and back alleys surrounding Notre Dame, and what it must have been like to emerge from the darkness and see this glorious building pointing up to the heavens.

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855 posts

I have been to Paris 4 times and always go to Notre Dame. And I always notice something that I didn't before because it is so beautiful and so much detail. Hopefully it will be rebuilt and opened in my lifetime. We are so sorry for the French people and the people who appreciate beautiful things.

I wish we had been there once when the musician was playing "Let It Be". And I know that most people think of it as a religious song, but the Mary referred to was Paul McCartney's mother. And quite frankly, if you are a religious person and it brings you peace and comfort then I say, "Let It Be"

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2250 posts

A black and white photograph, taken by my Mom in 1950, from high up in the front of Notre Dame looking towards the river and Tour Eiffel, hangs in our home. It hung in my childhood home. I went to Notre Dame the second time with the intent to duplicate the photo-really to know that I was standing in the same place as she sixty four years earlier. My shot is my screensaver now, Mom's black and white is far more dramatic. Sometimes, as children, we are weirdly pleased that a loved one missed a particular event.

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138 posts

I climbed the towers on April 20th last year. I know that doesn’t seem particularly noteworthy but I was 57 years old and had lost 69 pounds since I had retired, seriously overweight, in 2015. It was the first thing I did after dropping my bags at the hotel. It was a beautiful spring day. I will never forget being up there, seeing the gargoyles and all of Paris and climbing through a small door to see the bells. I took a guided tour of the inside two days later and was just in awe...it has always amazed me what those medieval builders were able to do.

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67 posts

I love everyone's stories. Thank you for sharing! I'm going to Paris at the end of May, and I'm very sad I won't experience the cathedral in the way I had dreamed of. When I thought of going to Paris, I thought of Notre Dame and really wanted to climb the tower to see the gargoyles up close. No matter, I will enjoy seeing Notre Dame in any way I can and will just have to come back again when it's rebuilt.

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1945 posts

RS likes to say in his guidebooks that even in the most crowded, noisiest tourist attractions in the big cities you are always just a few steps or a few minutes from a quiet and potentially personal connection with a place. The southeast side of the Notre Dame has always been a dependable safety valve for me when I get a little overheated by the hustle-bustle -- sitting on one of those benches or along the low wall by the Seine with a picnic or even just a snack while looking at the complicated buttresses holding up the back of the building is a practical, if not a spiritual, pick-me-up.

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4584 posts

I first saw Notre Dame the summer of 1975 when I had just graduated from high school and was in Europe and Russia through the 4-H Ambassador program. My most vivid memory was seeing the beautiful rose stained glass window.

I’ve been to Paris several times in the last ten years. To me, seeing the first glimpse of Notre Dame at night illuminated as I ride on the evening boat cruise each visit has been the highlight of those rides, along with the Eiffel Tower. It will be stark reality to see it this coming September, knowing there’s a good chance I will never see the building completely rebuilt to its former glory.

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4584 posts

Bets, thank you for starting this post. I am really enjoying reading what people are sharing!

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285 posts

Sitting along side the Seine on Ile St Louis, looking across the river to the back of the cathedral with the flying buttresses and spire marking a silhouette against the fading light, with lots of people enjoying picnics, wine and cheese along side us. It was a ready made party just for a late evening June sunset. It was perfect.

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852 posts

Mine was last spring, and my two photo weary kids rolled their eyes at my request for a photo inside Notre Dame. I took the shot and they ended up looking like two possessed kids (red eyes and all). They relented and we ended up with a great photo, but the contrast is a running joke about their “exorcism” in the cathedral. We loved our visit to Notre Dame and the climb to the tower.

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2002 posts

Notre Dame was the first building we went into on the Rick Steves Paris tour in 2001. My first time there.
It was an amazing "wow I really am in Paris" moment. I've been there many times since.

Posted by
1277 posts
  1. 1988----A guide took us upstairs to see (and pose with) some gargoyles. I should go digging for those photos. Guide stopped us in front of a bell that he said was named esmeralda for hugo's heroine. I decided right then that would be a great name for a cat. She was a good cat, who has long since gone on to the Rainbow Bridge after many years w me
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235 posts

Two years my family and I were standing across the street from Notre Dame Cathedral debating on what to do next on our itinerary. We decided not to go inside because we thought we wouldn't have enough time to see it fully and decided to come back later. Of course one thing led to another and we ran out of time and never made it back. We had decided that the next time we were in Paris seeing the Cathedral would be one of our first priorities. Now, sadly, we will never see it as it was.

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732 posts

Been to Paris three times.....and we always seemed to find our way back to Notre Dame. On our second visit we decided to stay on the Ile St Louis so that we would be staying nearby and could enjoy this magnificent cathedral whenever we wanted. Our very favorite thing to do was to grab a park bench in the park behind the building and enjoy people-watching....and the beautiful blooming roses and peonies. We were there just last May.....I can still remember the lovely sunny days, smelling the flowers and watching the world go by from a park bench right there......just such a sad sight to see a majestic building go down so quickly. I cannot wait to see it rebuilt in all its glory.

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3336 posts

I have so many memories of this cathedral over the past 30 years but my most memorable was from this past summer. We spent much of the summer in Paris and were finally able to attend the monthly veneration service for the Crown of Thorns. Whether or not you believe this to be the ACTUAL object, the history of it alone is moving, and the object itself, well it's simply something that shakes you to your core in its presence, especially as you approach it during the service to show respect. I'm not terribly religious but my faith is a big part of my life and this moment is one I won't forget. It was also nice to be able to walk to the cathedral early in the morning to be in the church before the hoards of people show up...it's such a serene but vast space. Crazy to think that the interior is seeing direct daylight for the first time in 850 years.

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10 posts

Went to Sunday Mass with my 10-year old daughter. It happened to be 4th of July 2004 and the priest that said Mass was an American. Kinda cool. 2013 - seeing police patrolling with their machine guns out - not so cool.

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1299 posts

My very first visit, probably late 1980's when my daughter and I climbed up the tower to see the gargoyles and the glorious view. I have returned to Notre Dame every trip since to attend the Gregorian service and then wander through the cathedral to revisit the glorious sites.

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171 posts

Two stand out:

  1. The first time was 1973. Our family had moved to Paris that summer. I was just an 11 year old dis-placed Southern California kid, who only knew that we were gonna visit some church with gargoyles. But I was wholly overwhelmed by what I experienced when we first walked into that majestic cathedral. If the organ wasn't playing that first day, it certainly did on other visits we made during our 6 months living in Paris. The combination of those rose windows, that amazing organ and even the unique quarry/cement smell made me feel like I'd been transported back to medieval times. I was smitten.
  2. 45 years later, my wife and I arrived in Paris on March 30, 2018. Our hotel on the left bank was right across the river. It was a mob scene in front of the church that Saturday afternoon, so we didn't go in. The next morning, we were awakened by the bells announcing Easter mass. We hurriedly got dressed and rushed over to join a surprisingly small crowd (compared to the day before) quietly entering the church. So glad we did... we'll never forget that.
Posted by
5145 posts

Wow. Thanks everyone, for sharing your memories. And especially thank you, Bets.

My memory isn't as warm; we were in Paris on Ascension Thursday. I am an observant Catholic. We arrived to sightsee just as a group of priests, bishops, and I think cardinals gathered to process to the main altar. My DH, who is neither Catholic nor religious, urged me to go sit in the nave to enjoy the service, while he slipped off to a side aisle to observe. The service was breathtaking, and the music was spectacular, even warming the heart of my sweet, non-observant DH.

But as beautiful as the service was, our memories are of the hordes of tourists talking, laughing, taking photos, while this moving event was taking place. We looked up the music afterward, and I have a copy of it buried somewhere in my piano bench. I'll dig it out and tap out the tune with two fingers, and remember that beautiful day.

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29 posts

Two memories actually.

The first night I was in Paris, I was walking back to the place I was staying from the Louvre, and took a turn, ending up in front of the Cathedral. I was definitely planning to see it later in the trip, but felt so lucky to find it by "accident". I was so awed by the size and intricacy of the carvings lit up at night. I had a Nutella crepe and sat watching people on the plaza. Young lovers, one laying her head on his lap, both looking up at the facade. Music playing, a warm night. I felt I had arrived in Paris at the moment.

Later in that trip, I ascended the many stairs to the bell tower and found the exact location where a friend who had died had photographed one of the gargoyles. I thought of him as I re-created the photo.

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3444 posts

I received my usual email newsletter from "Bonjour Paris" today. One of the articles was paying homage to Notre-Dame. Included was memorable photos. Nicely done. They also gave a list of alternative locations of worship for Holy Week. Very helpful. www.bonjourparis.com.

Posted by
2349 posts

It's interesting that so many mention that they are not religious but still found a special feeling to Notre Dame. I'm not religious either. To me, the power of the place is from the devotion of those who created it. Builders, craftsmen, stonemasons, glass workers. Whether they worked at building it because they had to, or for God, or for beauty, they put a lot of themselves into it. Thousands of people created it over hundreds of years.

There's a school of thought that says that a handmade object retains a bit of the artisan, and that is then transferred to the user of the object. Think of a finely made wooden bowl or a piece of pottery. You can almost feel the maker's hands that made it. It creates a connection between artist and user. To me, that's what was important in Notre Dame. Cold stone, marble and glass had life to it. What remains and will be rebuilt can still have that.