It still makes me feel sick. I got to visit Notre Dame cathedral twice in early 2019 just days before fire ripped through this medieval gem. Anybody who walked through that vast nave will know what a catastrophe this must have been to watch.
Notre Dame on fire
“It feels like the end of the world” – so said a Parisian as they watched the medieval cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris go up in flames in April 2019. Having visited twice that year before the fire, I felt sick to my stomach. The fire ripped along the entire length of the building. The central spire collapsed. What hope could there be of saving this incredible structure?
The cathedral was built in an ingenious way with, effectively, two roofs. An outer roof supported by a forest of timbers put up in the 12th and 13th centuries. Beneath this vast timber structure was a vaulted stone roof that protected the church below. We now know what happened is that the fire completely destroyed the outer roof and all those amazing timbers. But thanks to the ingenuity of the medieval masons, the inner roof and the church nave below were largely protected.
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About 20% of the inner stone roof did cave in but believe me, it could have been way worse. At one point, it looked like the fire would spread to the two main bell towers. If that had happened then they would have more than likely collapsed causing a chain reaction. The huge buttresses to the side of the church would have caved in bringing the entire cathedral down. We would have been left gazing at a pile of ancient rubble.
Mercifully – that didn’t happen.
In February and March of 2019, I was in Paris researching a TV programme and made two visits to Notre Dame cathedral (me pictured inside below). It’s as unmissable a monument at the very heart of Paris as it has been for over 800 years. The massive medieval construction sits on an island in the middle of the river Seine dominating its surroundings.
The tragic fire in Notre Dame
How terrible then to see Notre Dame in flames and largely destroyed by fire. Unfortunately, so many historic buildings suffer this fate yet many manage to rise again from the ashes.
However, even if the cathedral is repaired – it will not be the same as it once was. The gorgeous wooden screens I saw – dating back over 600 years – will have gone. Statues will have cracked. Stained glass windows will have been blown out. And the roof has already collapsed.
Notre Dame is a global catastrophe
This isn’t just a disaster for France. It’s a tragedy for all humanity. France gave us the Gothic style of church architecture that you can see all over the world. Notre Dame was the queen of Gothic cathedrals. It had a majestic elegance that inspired architects, masons and carpenters to strive to reproduce it in many cities.
Of course, for us Templar fans, Notre Dame has a poignancy as the last Grand Master of the Templars was burnt close by in the year 1307. Fans of the French novelist Victor Hugo will remember his hunchback character ringing the bells in the towers.
It’s a sad day and I leave you some images I took on my iPhone wishing I’d snapped a whole load more. But then I had no idea what was about to befall this grand structure.