Memories of Notre Dame de Paris

Susan Vaughan here. I’d planned a different topic for this post, but fate sent me a different direction. I was horrified on Monday to learn of the blaze and watch the flames that destroyed much of Paris’s iconic Notre Dame Cathedral. A tragedy and a huge loss to all. Just thinking about it brings tears to my eyes. This is a photo from a 2017 visit, taken from a boat cruise on the Seine.

Notre Dame is an icon to Catholics and other Christians as well as tourists world wide, and the heart of France itself. It occupies much of the Ile de la Cité, an island in the very center of Paris. For us in the U.S., it’s hard to fathom such a large structure being 800 plus years old. Such history there. Construction began in 1163 on the site of earlier churches and was mostly completed in the early fourteenth century. Damage and plunder during the Revolution followed by further construction (the flying buttresses) and other extensive renovations over the centuries have given us the Notre Dame we knew until this week.

I prefer to remember how she was the three times I visited, in 1966, 1969, and two years ago. Dating myself here, but I spent the summer of 1966 studying at the Sorbonne, once the University of Paris and now the location of several higher education institutions. My courses were for Americans studying the French language and French literature. At that time in my life, I planned to be a French teacher. Some of the American students lived in dorms, but I opted for immersion and lived with a family. My courses were in the morning, and most afternoons I toured the city. Three years later, again in the summer, I visited several countries in Europe and returned to Paris and Notre Dame. Back then, the stonework of the cathedral was nearly black, dirtied with centuries of grime and pollution.

And after meticulous cleaning in 2013 restored the light color of the stonework, I knew I needed to see Notre Dame again. My husband and I took a river cruise in 2017 that began with three days in Paris. Not nearly enough time, but I wasn’t disappointed in the cathedral’s brighter façade with its intricately carved doorways. Note the bell towers. They are still standing today, unlike the spire.

Here’s a close-up shot of one of the doorways.

When you enter, the cathedral’s vast dimensions inspire awe. The most spectacular interior features are three rose windows, particularly this one above the organ. I read today (Tuesday) the organ survived, and pictures showed a lot of the stained glass windows did as well. I saw on the news the rose windows, all three, survived, but will need cleaning.

Notre Dame didn’t originally have flying buttresses, the structures on the outside of the walls, in its design. As the cathedral grew high and higher, stress on the thinner walls popular in Gothic architecture meant support, or buttressing, was needed. I think they add a certain flourish to the overall look of the building.

Notre Dame

Atop the cathedral are (or were?) grotesque figures called gargoyles that serve as rain spouts and purportedly scare away evil spirits. They look medieval, but were actually additions installed during repairs in the mid 1800’s. My other favorite Paris landmark can be seen in the distance.

gargoyles on Notre Dame

At a shop on a side street, on that 1966 visit, I bought a small replica of one of the gargoyles. He’s the one on the right in the above photo. He sits on my shelves today and protects me while I write.

Monuments such as Notre Dame provide humans of all stripes with universal connections. We see them as old friends, something of permanence that will always be there, and we mourn them when they’re gone, whether by accident, as in this case, or by wanton destruction. Over its long history, Notre Dame de Paris has suffered considerable damage, but has always been lovingly restored and continued to attract visitors and worshipers from around the globe. The cathedral has hosted religious ceremonies and historic events. Napoleon was crowned there, and Joan of Arc was beatified there. After this historic and terrible fire, may she continue in this tradition. Oh, and my new heroes? Le pompiers de Paris–the firefighters of Paris!

I hope you readers will share stories and thoughts about Notre Dame.

About susanvaughan

Susan Vaughan loves writing romantic suspense because it throws the hero and heroine together under extraordinary circumstances and pits them against a clever villain. Her books have won the Golden Leaf, More Than Magic, and Write Touch Readers’ Award and been a finalist for the Booksellers’ Best and Daphne du Maurier awards. A former teacher, she’s a West Virginia native, but she and her husband have lived in the Mid-Coast area of Maine for many years. Her latest release is GENUINE FAKE, a stand-alone book in the Devlin Security Force series. Find her at or on Facebook as Susan H. Vaughan or on Twitter @SHVaughan.
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11 Responses to Memories of Notre Dame de Paris

  1. Con Sweeney says:

    I first saw Notre Dame in 1980 after coming up from Barcelona on the sadly now defunct Talgo overnight train from Barcelona. Living in Europe during the first half of the Eighties, I had many opportunities to visit the cathedral and was always awestruck by its simple grandeur and beauty. (I also frequented the café across the street many times for café au lait and croissants. But, I digress.) My wife and I returned again in 1991 for our honeymoon, and Notre Dame was still there as imposing and beautiful as ever. I could never imagine Paris without her. Now, I wonder if I’ll ever be able to visit again in my lifetime and walk through all the memories which reside there for the French and myself.

    • susanvaughan says:

      Con, thanks for your comment. I know the cafe you mention. I probably had cafe au lait there too. What wonderful way to see Europe, living there during the 80’s. I feel the same way about visiting again. It will take much longer than Macron’s vision of 5 years to make the repairs.

  2. Delsora Lowe says:

    I too was brought to tears and an out loud “OH NO” when I logged into my computer and the news flashed across my screen. I was in Paris as a child, so have no recollection of details, but as you pointed out it is an iconic symbol for all the world. Ironically, I had just posed a blog at Romancing the Genres about my iconic office view in Washington, D.C. during 9/11, that of the National Cathedral. In days of so much bad news, it is always nice to have those memories and iconic symbols, and so sad when anything happens to them. Thanks for sharing your experiences in Paris.

  3. Anonymous says:

    I will never forget going to an organ concert at Notre Dame Cathedral. The reverberations of the sounds working their way through those arches were mesmerizing.A totally moving experience that wish I could have heard again. Such a tragic loss.

    • susanvaughan says:

      Thanks for that memory. I’d love to have heard an organ concert there. If it makes you feel any better, the organ is fine. They carried it out yesterday for safekeeping.

  4. Kate Flora says:

    Two years ago, we walked through the plaza before the cathedral only minutes before someone attacked one of the guards and the plaza was cleared. The instant people were allowed back, it was full again with people from all over the world. I think so many of us are touched by this because it was an icon, a must-visit destination on all of our first, and subsequent trips to Paris.


  5. LD Masterson says:

    I’ve never had the opportunity to visit Notre Dame Cathedral but my son and his family were there just a week ago. I’m so glad they had the chance to see it before the fire.

  6. Laurie Evans says:

    I saw Notre Dame on a high school trip to Paris and Madrid. You see it on TV so often, but you can’t really appreciate the size of it until you go inside. I love the stained glass windows.

  7. Sandra Johnson says:

    One of my life’s greatest regrets was on a trip to Paris. I was having difficulty walking and so did not go into the cathedral. I did sit outside and gaze at it and enjoyed just being there.

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