I Watched Notre Dame Burn

I Watched Notre Dame Burn

Standing on the edge of the Seine I Whatsapp’d my mom “Notre Dame is on fire”. The time was 7:07 p.m.

Disbelief coursed through my mind as I stood and stared at the roof of Notre Dame. Standing at the steps on Pont au Double across the Seine from Notre Dame when Sara looked up and asked, “is that smoke?”. We looked to see the lightest wisps of black smoke floating upward from the base of the spire. Within a minute we knew the answer to that question tragically was ‘yes’ and we simply sat down and watched history unfold before our eyes.

April 15, 2019 6:56 p.m. Notre Dame

April 15, 2019 6:56 p.m. Notre Dame

The police and firemen had yet to arrive, there were no sirens, no ‘boo ba boo ba boo ba’. Just silence. The birds fluttered from the ledges as they tried to land on the heated roof. Tourists wandered amidst the gardens while we, across the river, stared and wished with everything within us the billowing of smoke wasn’t happening. We started sending images to our friends and families back home, but really all we could do was watch. Our voices were silent, our eyes not moving away for the increasing smoke. and then, there it was, the first flicker of flame. “How is this even happening?”


Quickly the popping of the metal on the roof grew louder and the flames increased becoming so large we could feel the heat across the river. We were just tourists who purchased a few trinkets to take home at a shop by the cathedral. We’d stopped to discuss where to have a glass of wine.


Time sequence from 6:58 p.m. to 7:19 p.m.

We were finally moved by the police at about 7:15 when they cordoned off the lower walkway.


The silence of the crowd, which grew by the minute, was palpable against the increasing sound of sirens rushing towards the cathedral. This place where history had walked for 1000 years. There was no moaning, no singing, nothing other than soft mumblings of mon Dieu. Wordlessly we all just stood and watched. There was nothing we could do.


We stood and watched until we could take no more. Moved on the the police from our front row seats we turned our backs and walked away across the Pont au Change to find a restaurant for some wine. Carrying a light dusting of ashes we sat there mute while we contemplated what we’d just seen.


We wandered to the Louvre to see the pyramids lit up with lights, to catch the Eiffel Tower and its twinkle lights. We wandered through the gardens for a bit before turning back to walk towards the cathedral and up Rue du Monge to our apartment. Even then still she burned. From the apartment windows we could see the glow of the fire late into the night. What had we witnessed?

The next morning as we wandered towards Montmartre and Sacre Couer, we detoured to see the damage in the daylight. To confirm what we had seen truly occurred. And there, where just the day before a beautiful jewel of a lady had stood strong under a brilliant blue April sky, was found a lady battered and down trodden but one who had proven her strength in the fiercest of battles the night before. There she stood beaten but not gone, still graciously beckoning all to come to her as she has through the ages.


I knew, as I gazed on those scorched walls and took in the missing roof and spire, that Notre Dame remained. Notre Dame has always inspired men to think great thoughts, thoughts of love, beauty, and charity, and she will rise again strong from the ashes.

Even the skies were mourning the damage to the magnificent Notre Dame Cathedral





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