The immediate response, reactions to, and backlash from Notre-Dame’s fire have shown unequivocally that travel makes an impact. Here’s why that matters.
I have written and rewritten and edited this article a bunch of times (either physically or in my head). I started to collect travel stories from people while the iconic church was still on fire because I noticed that people were starting to share their visits and memories. Then I saw people trying to shame those who’d share their stories, calling it a humble-brag about vacation. Then by the next morning (here in the US), the fire was out and nearly a billion Euros had been pledged to rebuild it.
That’s when people really got mad.
It’s understandable. We have SO MANY problems on this planet and we sit and watch politicians argue about how we don’t have the money to solve them (though many of us know otherwise). But that’s what we continue to hear – there’s no money. There’s never any money.
Then, an iconic building catches fire. And you know what we have? Money!
People ARE NOT WRONG to point out that when a predominantly white, Catholic church caught fire, it took less than 24 hours to raise way more money than the restoration could need. That people had pledged hundreds of millions of Euros while it was STILL ON FIRE. Yet meanwhile, three black churches in Louisiana were victims of a white nationalist attack and begging for crumbs. People ARE NOT WRONG to point out that the Catholic Church is a business with a whole lot of money and while they don’t own the Parisian cathedral, there would be nothing stopping them from putting up the money themselves.
And, of course, we can’t forget that everyone could find a better use for the money. The New York Times has a great piece on the backlash.
HOWEVER. Not only are people capable of mourning “just a building” and being agents of change for social issues, but it is also worth reflecting on the unique reaction to Notre-Dame’s fire. It is an example of how travel can impact us, connect us well-beyond our time on the road. How it creates empathy and lets us go beyond language, culture, geography and socio-economic divisions (less so that last one, but we can hope).
We can be so overwhelmed by the tragedy of the world that it’s in our nature to get involved with what we feel connected to. In 2017 and 2018, Indonesia was hammered with volcanic eruptions, multiple earthquakes and cyclones. The scale feels massively different, but the impact of travel is the same. Jules and Christine from Don’t Forget to Move are fellow lovers of Indonesia, and while spending time there this year have dedicated significant time and effort to support Lombok, both in direct, hands-on efforts rebuilding schools and through their blog channels to help bring tourism back. Several other bloggers were in nearby Bali as earthquakes hit and jumped straight into action to help as they could.
So with that in mind, I do think it’s of value to reflect on Notre-Dame and her impact on travel (though I’ll encourage your donations to go elsewhere).
A tribute to Notre-Dame and her impact on travel
Collective shock set in around the world as pictures of one of the most iconic buildings in history burned. Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris is about 800 years old, visited by 13 million people annually. Because it is such a symbol of Paris, people’s reactions have gone beyond the now-standard “thoughts and prayers” to mourning a genuine connection to the church.
As those memories fill the internet this week, I’ve gathered many of them here. Whether it be a first trip abroad, or starting a new phase of life, or a shared moment between family members, or an inspiration to understand architecture, people’s stories about Notre-Dame have been a reminder of how travel can impact us.
Notre-Dame de Paris en proie aux flammes. Émotion de toute une nation. Pensée pour tous les catholiques et pour tous les Français. Comme tous nos compatriotes, je suis triste ce soir de voir brûler cette part de nous.
— Emmanuel Macron (@EmmanuelMacron) April 15, 2019
|Quick editor’s note: while the fire of Notre Dame has captured the world’s attention, it has engulfed any coverage of the three black churches in Louisiana that burned the week prior at the hands of a white nationalist (and many other crises). At the time, I urged donations to go to their GoFundMe, but they have surpassed their goal and are no longer accepting donations. If you are moved to donate to rebuilding a church, please consider donating to relief efforts in Southeastern Africa as Cyclone Kenneth followed last month’s Cyclone Idai in devastating Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe, like those of UNICEF, Doctors Without Borders, or World Food Program USA.|
Visitors share their memories, Notre-Dame and her impact on travelers
When an iconic building sees 12-13 million visitors a year, its loss resonates internationally. Unique to the tragedy of its fire, people are sharing their personal connections and memories rather than just the sad news. What we’re seeing is more than the now-standard “thoughts and prayers” response – we’re seeing people mourn a building that was part of a memory or story or moment.
Why even share stories?
Quick address to the elephant in the room (or the elephant sh*tting on the room). As quickly as people started to share their stories, critics followed. Saying people are using tragedy for attention or their own benefit (like one presumptuous response I got when I asked people for their stories for this post).
Look, I’m no expert on human behavior, but to me, it doesn’t seem like a bad thing that people want to share in a tragic event. It’s “just a building,” yes. But that building represents something to a lot of people. People feel connected to it. And the Catholic Church isn’t the greatest organization out there (I personally have a lot of issues with it). And no one got hurt. And what about violence and what about another tragedy and what about…?
So are people monsters for wanting to actually connect to one another and to a shocking event? What if we reacted to more calamities with empathy? What if we treated more hardships and catastrophes like they affect us individually? Is it a bad thing to take a moment out of our week to reflect on our own lives and growth?
I say instead of chastising people for empathy and reflection, it’s worth thinking about how people process, how people react and how to harness all those feelings for good (for example, how do we use the discussions about and desires to donate to Notre-Dame to talk about the needs of the community in Louisiana, or the challenges the Church has faced over the years, or how we become better humans by learning through history and travel?).
That in mind, here are the Notre-Dame stories that people have shared with me in order to pay tribute. If you have your own story, please share in the comments or email me to be included.
A measure of growth.
I am privileged enough to have visited Europe on a school-planned trip when I was 15. The Hunchback of Notre Dame had just come out and I was obsessed with gargoyles. I saw and learned a lot on that trip, but it was when we approached the cathedral that I truly felt gobsmacked. Something I saw in a movie was right in front of me, in a lot more detail than the cartoon version showed.
Nearly 20 years later, I returned to Paris having visited 45 countries and walking up to the building, the awe was the same, but also different. With that time passing, I could appreciate the incredible amounts of detail. The purposeful design (even the cheeky parts where the architect made his mother-in-law a gargoyle). The simple fact that it was still standing – not just through centuries, but through wars and a revolution. That this building was older than the country I was born in. That people casually walk by it every day on their ways to work or meet a friend.
“Does that feeling fade?” I wondered. I would say given the reaction to this fire, the answer is a firm, “no.”
Jessica Elliott of How Dare She (this site).
Don’t skip it just because “you’ve been.”
I never expected to fall in love with the capital of France, and yet somehow on a whirlwind 3-day to visit to Paris in December of 2011 it happened. The food was great, the atmosphere was fantastic, and the architecture was absolutely stunning. Especially the Notre-Dame Cathedral.
I’ve been to Paris five times in the past seven years. Each time I’ve found new things to see and do in the city but no matter what, I’ve always made sure to visit Notre-Dame. Despite the crowds and the scammers, the Notre-Dame Cathedral is one of my favourite places in Paris and I always stop at least for a couple of minutes to take it in.
Now, after this tragedy, I’m so glad that I did. While I’m sure the French will do everything that they can to repair the damage done, there’s no questioning how lucky I’ve been to be able to see it as was not just once, but five times.
Contributed by Hannah Logan at Eat Sleep Breathe Travel.
“Don’t wait to see the magic in our world. Go now.”
I first laid eyes upon Our Lady of Paris on my first visit 34 years ago, as a brand-new college exchange student to France from California. It was one of my earliest impressions of Europe and it was memorable…Notre-Dame de Paris was simply stunning in her beauty.
However, her doors were also locked that day. It wasn’t until I returned three decades later, in 2016, when she finally revealed the secrets of her interior to me. As light streamed through the stunning stained glass—including the famous rose windows—I was awed by the beautiful treasures inside: a piece of the cross on which Jesus is believed to be crucified as well as the crown he wore on his head, stone sculptures, two incredible organs, and paintings commissioned in the 17th century.
Don’t wait to see the magic in our world. Go now.
Contributed by Chris at Explore Now or Never.
Love at first sight.
My visit to Paris and the stunning Notre-Dame happened all the way back in 2009, on my first-ever one-on-one trip with my mom. I was just a couple years out of college and it was the trip that really opened up travel for me, as something I truly loved and could do whenever and wherever I wanted. I distinctly remember that moment I walked around the street corner and got my first glimpse of the cathedral framed with vivid fall leaves, and being bowled over by the sight–I did a giddy little dance because I was so immediately in love!
Contributed by Jessica from One Girl, Whole World.
Sharing Notre-Dame with the children.
In 2013 our family took our first trip to Europe. Our children were 5, 7 and 10 at the time and one of our favourite activities during our 5 nights in Paris was walking up the towers of the majestic Notre-Dame Cathedral. We awoke early and went directly to the cathedral to stand in line. It was an hour wait before the tower opened for the day but the children were oh so patient. They were excited to see the gargoyles up close. When the time arrived, we walked up the steep steps to the top of the tower.
Slowing but surely their little legs climbed. We enjoyed every moment at the top exploring each and every gargoyle and statue. When we finally returned to the bottom, we visited the Cathedral’s incredible interior.
As we entered, our little children asked to light a candle in memory of their grandfather. It was the start of a heart-warming tradition and even today, the children light a candle when they visit a new church. My heart breaks today for all that has been lost but we continue to hold hope that she can be saved.
Contributed by Joanne at Sunsets and Rollercoasters.
Views of Notre-Dame while sleeping in a bookstore.
Paris was the first foreign city I lived in as an expat after leaving my home country in 1999. Notre-Dame was one of the first iconic monuments I visited in Paris, and I returned to it again and again over the 16 months that I lived in the city.
After my work contract finished, I even slept in the Shakespeare and Company bookstore just across the river from Notre-Dame for a couple of weeks. There was no toilet and just an uncomfortable bench to sleep on, but I was grateful for the free accommodation in exchange for a few hours of work, and I had a great view of the Cathedral from there. The gargoyles seemed to join me in my quiet reflection while I pondered what I should do next with my life.
It’s been a while since I’ve been back to Paris. I keep meaning to return to see old friends and check out the Paris vegan food scene that I’ve heard such wonderful things about. The tragedy of Notre-Dame is a poignant reminder not to put things off, because even the things you think will always be there can vanish in an instant.
Contributed by Wendy Werneth of The Nomadic Vegan. (thank you Wendy for also contributing the image used for the featured image of this post)
She’ll make you sit down and think (and kick your socks up).
I visited Notre-Dame in 2017. I got to see her two days before I flew back to Australia after a 7-month exchange in Sweden. Of all the landmarks and magnificent buildings I’d seen travelling through some 15 countries, this was among the best. I was so blown away by her magnificence and beauty that I literally had to sit down, right there in the middle of the square, for a minute or two just to take it all in. My thoughts are with Paris and France.
Contributed by Jarah Dennison.
“As a Parisian and architect…”
The fire which almost destroyed the Cathedral of Notre-Dame of Paris was a drama for the city and the Parisians. It was a long night in front of the TV, following the firemen’s works to extinguish the fire which was burning all the Cathedral’s roof. I was especially anxious when the firemen announced that they were not sure they could save the towers and that the following 90 minutes were crucial for the structure of the Cathedral. If the north tower, the most affected by the fire, collapsed then everything was lost. In the worst of my nightmares I could imagine Notre-Dame without roof and without spire but it was impossible for me to imagine Ile de la Cité (and Paris) without Notre-Dame.
As a Parisian and architect who has studied and passed exams on the “Grandes Cathedrales”, I am much attached to Notre-Dame, not only for its historical, religious and architectural importance but also because Notre-Dame is the heart of Paris. In the end I could only go to sleep when the firemen announced that the cathedral was saved.
The picture shows Notre-Dame the day after the terrible fire. The funds and support to reconstruct Notre-Dame continue to arrive and we hope that Notre-Dame will shine again very soon. We were at Notre-Dame around noon, we had to see “HER” after that long night and all the suffering. Ile de la Cité was closed to the public so the nearest point we could reach was Quai de Montebello. Most of us Parisians walk past HER every day in a hurry going somewhere, and thinking she’s gorgeous but she’ll always be there so “maybe another day I’ll stop and enjoy “HER”. Until one day she isn’t (completely) there anymore.
Take every day as a blessing, take a pause and enjoy the present as a gift, and never take for granted the beauty that surrounds you
Contributed by Elisa from World in Paris.
The power of a photo.
Last time we went to Paris we spent five days running around the city capturing photos of all the iconic landmarks. After having visited countless times (5+) I made the decision that ‘nahhh we don’t have to shoot Notre Dame’ and passed up waking up early and doing photos at this church.
By now you know this iconic landmark is burning and will be forever changed. History is lost forever. Images that could have been have been passed up and lost forever. It feels like a piece of our hearts are burned. A piece we didn’t even know existed or maybe we forgot about. Notre Dame was always something we saw in Paris.
Out of five trips, I don’t have a single photo of myself in front of this landmark. Terrence and I have no photos together. My sister and my mom thankfully do but it means a lot to me to be in photos for my own personal nostalgia and because I was always too busy rushing through Paris to see the next thing, I passed up the opportunity that is now lost forever.
So this post is to tell you to NEVER EVER pass up the chance to be in a photograph. Whether it is with your family, children, pets, friends, or an iconic monument that is over a thousand years old. You NEVER KNOW what will happen in the future. All you have is NOW.
You would never expect this huge structure to just burn down all at once. I never thought about it until today. And the fact that I don’t have photos of myself there makes me incredibly disappointed and adds to the sadness of this horrible tragedy.
Stopping to take photos here instead of some Instagram famous street people will forget in 5 years would have been a better choice.
Please don’t miss another opportunity to take photos of anything and everything. They are truly all we have. Our memories may fade but our photos are what we have to remember.
Praying for those in Paris and all who are sad around France and the world. Praying for safety and peace this Easter Week ❤️
Contributed by Victoria Yore from Follow Me Away.
Inspiring the traveler in a teenager.
I first visited Notre-Dame when I was thirteen years old on a family trip across Europe. The cathedral loomed overhead as we entered. We stepped inside and it was an entirely different world. Stained glass, candles lit, dark corners, high altars, statues, paintings, a sense of peace but also enormity. My overwhelming fascination with the cathedral that day inspired me to seek cathedrals in every city I visited. My husband will tell you that I always have one or two cathedrals or churches to visit everywhere we go. Notre-Dame is an inspiration, and has created a travel pathway for me that wouldn’t otherwise have occurred without its existence.
Contributed by Diane of the Elusive Family.
We have been to Paris a few times, once during Christmas a year after we got married, then around when my daughter was 3 years old and most recently in 2015. Three things we never miss when we are there are – a cruise on Siene River, to be near Eiffel tower during sunset to watch it twinkle and go to Notre-Dame to marvel at the Rose Windows, count the gargoyles and admire the vaulted ceiling, statues and the dimly lit wooden interior.
I never really sat down to write about Paris or this Lady of Paris since I felt my photos were not adequate, I wanted better pictures of those Stained glasses! I was sure we would do a better job next time, now there is no next time! Those same photos I cherish looking at now – reminds me of a time before the fire that engulfed a structure that has stood since the 12th century.
Contributed by Priya Vin from Outside Suburbia.
A cure for jetlag.
I visited Paris with my sister for our first sisters-only trip ever. Notre-Dame was at the top of my sister’s wish list, so we went there on our first morning in Paris. We were jet-lagged so we woke bright and early on the winter morning of Monday, Nov 20th. It was a cool crisp morning with slight cloud cover. There were a few other visitors at the cathedral. I had seen only a few pictures of Notre-Dame, so I was completely blown away with the beauty and craftsmanship, especially the woodwork and stained-glass art. We loved it so much that we must have spent over an hour in peace.
I wish we had climbed up to the top, but we skipped that part because by the time we came out, there was at least a 10-15min long line for the climb and it was chilly.
I want to go back to Paris when Notre-Dame is re-built and this time I will climb to the top.
I still remember mesmerizing beauty like it was yesterday. Miss you Notre-Dame.
Contributed by Jyoti from Story At Every Corner.
When memories of tragedies intersect.
Sometimes we stopped, walked by the hordes of tourists, past the spire that burnt down last night, and sat down on a bench in the little park behind the cathedral. Thinking. Dreaming. Remembering. Never could we forget the first time we visited Notre-Dame together. That was in 2001. September 11 to be exact…
Contributed by Mei and Kerstin from Travel with Mei and Kerstin.
The face of Paris.
A symbol of Paris, this towering Gothic cathedral has a history as large as its now-destroyed 300-foot tall spire, and won’t ever be forgotten. Henry the VI was crowned here, the Hunchback of Notre Dame was set here and James V, King of Scotland, married Madeleine of Valois here in 1537. To me, Notre-Dame is European history itself, and walking in for the first time was like stepping in the footsteps of kings, emperors and angels. Dating back to 1143, the cathedral was founded by Louis VII and took nearly two hundred years to complete – yet it took only a couple of hours for fire to consume it. It’s almost impossible to digest. Still, its structure survives, and it will be rebuilt, an emblem of regeneration and resilience for centuries to come.
Contributed by Carol Perehudoff from WanderingCarol.
Notre-Dame defines the city for me.
For a lot of tourists, Paris starts and ends with the Eiffel Tower. To me, Eiffel Tower is the yin but Notre-Dame cathedral is the yang that defines what the city is all about.
I remember visiting the cathedral on the occasion of its 850th anniversary and being completely awed by it. Despite the place being full of tourists, I remember feeling a sense of calm as soon as I entered the place. I sat in silence and gawked at the stained glass and the nave, walked the length of the cathedral later and then stood in a queue for over two hours to climb the spiral staircase that took me to the top of the cathedral for some of the best views of Paris.
I envied the stone gargoyles who enjoyed the fabulous view every day and learnt more about the history of Paris here than at any other place.
I sincerely hope the cathedral is rebuilt to its former glory and I can one day be envious of the gargoyles who stand guard at the top of the cathedral.
Contributed by Priyanko Sarkar from Constant Traveller.
Latest on the fire
(updated as information is available)
The fire is out and investigations are ongoing. Many of the art and relics have been moved to safe places (including the nearby Louvre). No serious injuries have been reported. The streets were lined with Parisians and visitors, signing Ave Maria as they watched firefighting efforts. Tuesday morning, people continued to pay tribute.
While this post focused on travel pictures, there have been some stunning images from the fire and its aftermath worth seeing.
— Patrick Galey (@patrickgaley) April 15, 2019
A brief history of Notre-Dame, and some interesting facts
Notre-Dame Cathedral was built between 1163 and 1345, atop the ruins of earlier churches. Because of significant restoration and preservation efforts, most of the building’s structure dates to the 19th century.
It has been the stage for the coronations of Henry VI of England (1431) and Napoleon. Disney’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996) animated Victor Hugo’s “Notre Dame de Paris (1831), while it had already been on film in 1939 and 1956.
While it holds Catholic masses, the church itself is owned by the French government, recognizing its iconic status. About 13,000,000 people visit the church annually.
“We will rebuild”
Before the fire was put out or a cause was even known, pledges to rebuild came from around the world. President Macrón mentioned it in his first address, though he seemed tenuous as to where the funds would come from, stating he would start an internal fundraising campaign. France’s big business and wealthy stepped in.
Within 24 hours of the fire, French billionaire François-Henri Pinault put his money where his heart is – his family pledged €100 million to efforts to restore and rebuild the cathedral. LVMH (owner of Louis Vuitton, Christian Dior and Givenchy) and CEO Bernard Arnault (the third richest person in the world) have committed €200 million. The Bettencourt Meyers family (who control L’Oreal) have matched that commitment, and along with other major companies and wealthy donors, donations reached over €700 million.
Again, for those considering donations, I’ll refer you to the relief efforts in Southeastern Africa (above).
Notre Dame is one of the world’s great treasures, and we’re thinking of the people of France in your time of grief. It’s in our nature to mourn when we see history lost – but it’s also in our nature to rebuild for tomorrow, as strong as we can. pic.twitter.com/SpMEvv1BzB
— Barack Obama (@BarackObama) April 15, 2019
Notre-Dame, the Catholic church and what could have been lost
It is not only the structure of the church that many feared damage and total loss, but also the artwork and relics inside. The cathedral houses paintings, famous statues, the crown of thorns and other religious artifacts. Some had been removed prior to the restoration work, but it’s been reported that most of the relics were removed during the fire, and some of the paintings appear to have suffered smoke damage. But the Louvre nearby is already ready to work on restoration. The stained-glass windows don’t appear to have suffered damage.
Today we unite in prayer with the people of France, as we wait for the sorrow inflicted by the serious damage to be transformed into hope with reconstruction. Holy Mary, Our Lady, pray for us. #NotreDame
— Pope Francis (@Pontifex) April 16, 2019