Looking across the city of Paris from the wonderful vantage point of Montmartre yesterday (Monday 15 April, 2019), it was impossible not to be in awe. From the Centre Pompidou sweeping west towards the Eiffel Tower, we could see so many famed buildings betraying a spectacular fusion of architectural styles bringing together this celebrated city.
Of all these buildings, none has more significant meaning, on a personal level, than the Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris, perhaps the most iconic symbol of 12th century French Gothic architecture and, to many Parisians and French, the true treasure of the city and country.
To be greeted, upon our arrival back in London last night, with the news that this iconic structure was ablaze was truly heartbreaking, having been sat outside it in a moment of blissful peace and relaxation just 48 hours earlier.
One of my closest friends describes the impact of Notre-Dame just beautifully:-
Whatever your faith, present or not, whether you hold ‘feelings’ for buildings. It’s a tragedy. One of the great, most inspiring buildings of the world.
Of course, I have never hidden from the importance of my faith, and it is here at Notre-Dame that I have felt closer, in a moment, than I ever have to God.
I wrote this in my journal of 2014 after the Paris Half-Marathon on 2 March:
After the carnival of Place de la Bastille, I had a brief moment to recapture my breath and poise as the route headed down towards the River just past the half way point.
I made the turn on to Quai des Celestins having passed through the amusingly named Arsenal... forgive me for saying that this was a slightly more beautiful spot than anything I've seen in that particular part of North London!
I looked up for what was meant to be the briefest moment, and there she was, pure majesty, a sight more breathtakingly divine than any I have ever seen.
Ahead of me was La Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris, the fabled bell towers pre-eminent behind the spire as the bright spring sunshine reflected from the waters of La Seine. This was, surely, heaven on earth.
If this was the day when God wanted to bring me home, then I would have been quite happy for I had seen Him in all His glory in that moment and nothing might ever be quite the same again.
The city of Paris has always been among the most enchanting and captivating places on earth. Notre-Dame encompasses it all... how many places can combine 856 years of history, art and architecture, faith and literature?
Today the French nation grieves their heritage, the beauty that has looked down on them for generations.
Across the world, we grieve with them.