Marvel of a monument: Valley residents reflect on Notre Dame

  • Debris are seen inside Notre Dame cathedral in Paris, Tuesday, April 16, 2019. Firefighters declared success Tuesday in a more than 12-hour battle to extinguish an inferno engulfing Paris' iconic Notre Dame cathedral that claimed its spire and roof, but spared its bell towers and the purported Crown of Christ. (Christophe Petit Tesson, Pool via AP) Christophe Petit Tesson

  • A hole is seen in the dome inside Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, Tuesday. Firefighters declared success Tuesday in a more than 12-hour battle to extinguish an inferno engulfing Paris’ iconic Notre Dame cathedral that claimed its spire and roof, but spared its bell towers and the purported Crown of Christ. POOL VIA AP

Staff Writer
Published: 4/17/2019 12:29:08 AM

NORTHAMPTON — Fire raging for more than 12 hours burned Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, Monday, destroying the spire and roof, spewing ash and leaving many in the country and around the world looking on in shock.

Locally, those with a connection to Paris and its famed monument were especially affected.

“I freaked out,” said Anouk Alquier, a French instructor at Mount Holyoke College who was born and raised in Paris.

Alquier said the cathedral — which has survived war, revolution and everything in between — has provided the location or backdrop for some of the region’s most important historical moments. She said she was relieved to learn that the building was still standing, but that didn’t make her feel any better.

“I feel my own mortality, actually,” she said.

Michael Davis, a Mount Holyoke professor of art history and chairman of the architectural studies department, shared in Alquier’s shock.

“It was terrifying to watch, especially when the spire went down and collapsed into the building,” he said.

Davis described the building as an “elegant Frankenstein,” as its construction has spanned seven centuries and different periods in French history. The original building and much of the interior were built in the 12th century, he said, with restoration efforts continuing in the 19th century.

For many people, the sight of the cathedral in flames brought back memories of their own visits.

“I remembered my visit there some years ago,” Mitchell Rozanski, bishop of the Diocese of Springfield, which serves all of western Massachusetts, wrote in an email to the Gazette. He recalled “marveling at the beautiful artisanship of stone, wood and stained glass windows that expressed our Catholic faith for the ages.”

Sonya Stephens, president of Mount Holyoke College and a scholar in 19th-century French literature, spoke of the cathedral’s cultural significance.

“Notre Dame holds a very special place among French monuments, as well as in the popular imagination,” she wrote in a statement. “It represents France’s religious history, centuries of tradition and of workmanship, and has always stood as a symbol of both continuity and change.

“That it should be consumed by fire in this way is a national tragedy and deeply poignant as France grapples with social and political turmoil.”

The cathedral is central, in every sense of the word. Outside of the monument is a marker from which distances from Paris to other parts of France are calculated.

“I think it’s no accident that mileage through France is calculated literally from the front door of the cathedral,” Davis said.

French President Emmanuel Macron has promised that the cathedral will be rebuilt. “We have so much to rebuild,” he said in a televised speech to the country. Those were words that heartened Bishop Rozanski.

And much of the cathedral remains.

“I’m cautiously optimistic,” Davis said. “I think there’s perhaps a justified caution, too, because one really has to wait until there’s a careful inspection of the structure.”

Material from the Associated Press was used in this report. Staff writer Dusty Christensen contributed reporting.

Greta Jochem can be reached at gjochem@gazettenet.com




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