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Remembering Previous Visits to the Cathedral of Notre Dame De Paris

Updated on April 20, 2019
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Chuck enjoys traveling and over the years has had the opportunity to visit many fascinating places in the U.S. and the world.

Notre Dame de Paris Cathedral

Side view of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, France
Side view of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, France | Source

I Hear of Notre Dame de Paris Burning Shortly After Fire Started

I first heard about the fire at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris while sitting in a restaurant having coffee with a friend and his adult daughter.

As we were finishing his daughter was checking something on her phone when an announcement popped up showing Notre Dame burning. All three of us saddened by the news that this great cathedral was in danger of being destroyed by the fire that was raging within it.

Of the three of us I was the only one that had visited Notre Dame in Paris. I have visited Paris twice and toured the cathedral on both occasions.

I First Visited Europe While Serving in Wisconsin Air National Guard

My first visit to Paris was a weekend visit in the later part of August 1972. I was in graduate school and also flying as a navigator with the Wisconsin Air National Guard’s 128th Air Refueling Wing flying out of Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

This was during the Vietnam War which, among other things, was the first war in American history in which the National Guard (which consists of part-time reservists under control of the individual states) was not mobilized to fight in the war.

However, the 128th, along with air refueling units from about 8 other states, volunteered to undertake two-week rotations about 4 or 5 times per year each to Rhein-Main AFB in Frankfurt, Germany which enabled the Air Force to transfer one or two regular Air Force air refueling squadrons stationed in Europe to Okinawa, Japan where they provided air refueling for bomber and fighter aircraft flying missions in Vietnam.

Rear View of Paris's Notre Dame Cathedral

Exterior view of Cathedral of Notre Dame de Paris
Exterior view of Cathedral of Notre Dame de Paris | Source

Some of My Fellow Crew Members Take a Weekend Trip to Paris

Some of the younger air crew members and I were talking one afternoon or evening about finding something to do on the upcoming weekend which we had off. One mentioned that the American Express office on base had some bus tours one of which was a package trip to Paris that weekend.

The package included bus, hotel and guided tours of major Parisian landmarks including Notre Dame.

Our hotel, while not fancy, was apparently located near the center of Paris as the four of us headed out exploring one evening after the day’s tours were over. I have a picture I took of the Arc de Triomphe and I remember walking along the Av. des Champs-Élysées where, after walking past a building displaying expensive cars in the window we noticed, either next door to it or very close to it, a McDonald’s where we stopped for something to eat.

While McDonald’s restaurants were very common in the U.S. at the time encountering a McDonald's in the heart of Paris was unusual.

I don’t remember but I probably ordered a burger and fries which is probably what the others ordered. What I do remember is also ordering my usual chocolate milkshake. And it is the chocolate milkshake that I still remember because the texture was creamer than the ones in the U.S. and the taste had a richer chocolate flavor.

Side Entrance to Cathedral of Notre Dame de Paris

One of the side entrances to Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris
One of the side entrances to Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris | Source

After Having Flown All Over the World the Captain Ventures Beyond Airports

In addition to me, a new navigator and Second Lieutenant, our group consisted of my friend Zeke, a pilot with a rank of 1st Lt, Chris also a pilot and first Lieutenant and another pilot who was a Captain and whose full time civilian job was with a major airline.

The Captain, who was just a bit older than the rest of us, had served 6 or more years in the regular Air Force before leaving and joining the Air National Guard.

In the Air Force the Captain had been a pilot on one of the crews flying supplies to American Embassies and Consulates around the world. During his Air Force career had visited every nation in the world where the United States had an embassy.

Despite the fact that they had layovers of a day or more in many nations he, like many of his comrades, had never left the confines of the airbase or airport where they had landed.

This trip to Paris was the first time he was venturing into a foreign nation beyond the confines of the airbase where he had landed the airplane he was flying.

Close up of One of Notre Dame's Bell Towers

Sculptures on one of Notre Dame Cathedral's bell towers in Paris
Sculptures on one of Notre Dame Cathedral's bell towers in Paris | Source

We Tour Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris

I don’t remember how long our visit to Notre Dame was, but I do remember both the guided tour as well as having time after the guided tour to walk around and take pictures.

I will always remember enjoying the beauty of Notre Dame and the feeling of awe at standing in the midst of almost a thousand years of history and beauty created by the mostly unknown artists, craftsmen and regular workers all doing their small part in creating such a beautiful spiritual and historic edifice.

I also remember our tour guide pointing to the beautiful stained glass windows and commenting that, in the Middle Ages, these windows were not just beautiful works of art but also had a more practical purpose.

In the Middle Ages the clergy were among the few who could read, so during the Bible readings and sermon portions of the Mass the priest would point to the windows containing people and Biblical scenes that were relevant to the story being told. I continue to think of that every time I view stained glass windows in any church I am visiting.

One of Notre Dame de Paris Cathedral's Stained Glass Windows

Stained Glass window in Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris
Stained Glass window in Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris | Source

Before Digital Cameras Taking Pictures Was Expensive

Unfortunately, both this visit and the subsequent one with my sister three years later, were in the pre-digital camera age. Back then we were using film.

I had a 35mm single lens reflex camera and on trips would use the larger 36 exposure rolls which I could usually purchase in the U.S. for between $3 and $4 a roll.

It then cost another $3 or so to have the film developed. I usually took about 6 rolls of film on trips to Europe which forced be to carefully ration the number of pictures I took in any one place, This was unlike today when using my cellphone alone I will take as many as three or four hundred pictures a day in addition to a few hundred more when I also have my digital camera with me.

If I had had the opportunity to visit Notre Dame recently before the fire I would probably taken, among many other things, a picture of most or all of the stained glass windows and other works inside and outside of the church as well as more outside views.

Night View of Notre Dame's Bell Towers

Notre Dame Cathedral's bell towers in the evening.
Notre Dame Cathedral's bell towers in the evening. | Source

My Sister and I Decide to Vacation in Europe

Three years my youngest sister and I decided to take a trip to Europe - her first and my first since my trips with the Air National Guard. Both of us were still single and had full time jobs which made it easy for us to travel abroad.

This was before the 1979 airline deregulation so airfares anywhere were expensive especially flights between the U.S. and Europe. However, Icelandic Airlines did offer low cost transatlantic flights between the Chicago, New York and Luxembourg which made the cost reasonable.

While I don’t recall what other places we visited on that trip I do remember that we ended up spending two or three days in Paris exploring the city on foot.

Spire of Notre Dame Cathedral Soaring Towards the Parisian Sky

Notre Dame Cathedral's Spire outlined against the Parisian Sky.
Notre Dame Cathedral's Spire outlined against the Parisian Sky. | Source

I Visit Notre Dame Cathedral Again

We visited Notre Dame on one of our days in Paris. It was late in the afternoon and the sun was starting to set while we were there.

What I remember most about this visit was the dim light inside the church, probably due in part to the setting sun. Much of the interior light came from hundreds of votive and other candles burning throughout the interior of the church. The effect was memorable - a very spiritual and awesome feeling came over me.

Darkness was descending when we exited the church and I was able to take some additional pictures of Notre Dame after dark.

Sculpture and Votive Candles in Front of Stained Glass Window in Notre Dame de Paris

Silhouette of Statue and votive candles in front of one of Notre Dame de Paris Cathedral's stained glass windows
Silhouette of Statue and votive candles in front of one of Notre Dame de Paris Cathedral's stained glass windows | Source

Fortunately Notre Dame de Paris Spared From Total Destruction

While badly damaged, it now appears that the basic physical structure of Notre Dame, except the spire, survived. Of course the repairs will be massive and will result in some changes to the church.

When the fire was raging on April 15th and total destruction of the church was a possibility some were already debating whether or not to build an identical church on the same spot. There was opposition to replacing the church with a new one that looked just like the old one.

Fortunately, the basic structure has survived. This is important since no matter how exact the replica of a historic building, statute, painting, etc. is it is not the same as having the original.

Today's Repairs Will Be a Part of Notre Dame's History of Building and Repairing

Thanks to the Parisian firefighters who were able to save much of the structure of Notre Dame as well as many of the numerous artifacts that were within the church we still have that tactile connection back not only to those unnamed workers who began building the Notre Dame Cathedral in the 1160 but down to the firemen and others who fought the fire and those to come who will be making the repairs in the coming years.

While repairs will be long and expensive the world will not only continue to enjoy this historic beauty. And, today’s repairs will be just one of a long line of work and changes to the this beautiful church since workers first began building it 900 years ago.

Notre Dame de Paris After Dark

View of Cathedral of Notre Dame de Paris
View of Cathedral of Notre Dame de Paris | Source

Original Works of Art Offer Us More Than Beauty Alone

Historic originals are admired for more than their beauty alone. These works provide us with a physical link to the past or, as the Wall Street in an editorial the day after the fire put it: a tactile connection to the faith and artistry of the countless anonymous workmen who built and improved it over the centuries.

Viewing or entering Notre Dame or other great monument from the past is a spiritual and emotional experience as well as a visual one.

Viewing a photograph of Leonardo di Vinci’s Mona Lisa or Michelangelo's paintings on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel provide a great visual experience but standing a few feet from the original Mona Lisa portrait in the Louvre or standing in the Sistine Chapel and looking up at the art on the ceiling is a much broader and deeper experience.

Sun Setting over Seine River

View from Notre Dame Cathedral of the sun setting over Paris's Seine River which flows past the Cathedral
View from Notre Dame Cathedral of the sun setting over Paris's Seine River which flows past the Cathedral | Source

© 2019 Chuck Nugent


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