Paris, France: the “City of Lights” is known for its romance, culture, and tourist attractions. However, on April 15, disaster struck. It began with the renovations, then the fall of the spire, and soon an 856-year-old piece of history was engulfed in flames.
The world was shocked when news circulated that the beloved Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris was aflame. Soon, thousands of news networks were releasing live photos and feed of the tragedy. According to CBS News, the cathedral caught fire at 6:50 p.m. (1:50 U.S. DST). Despite not being near the tragedy, senior Dakota Coffman was frantic when he heard the news.
“I was constantly refreshing any news page I could see,” he said. “I was freaking out. When I saw the pictures of the cathedral, my heart sank.”
As soon as the tragedy began, news circulated throughout Southmoreland as fast as the fire that was consuming the beloved cathedral. History teacher Mr. Michael May was notified about the event in seventh period that day.
“A student actually told me in class while I was teaching. I initially thought it was Notre Dame in the U.S., so I was almost sure that it was a religious or hate attack. After learning it was in Paris, I was saddened more to know that such a historical work and symbol of world faith was burning down. Kind of fitting scene, seeing the state of morality in this world,” he said.
However, French teacher Mrs. Carrie Scott found out in a different way. Before students flooded into the room during eighth period shouting the news, she was already informed, thanks to the speed of technology.
“I received a notification from my WTAE app during seventh period. I was surprised. I didn’t know the intensity of the fire at the time, but I feared that we would wake up the next day without a Notre Dame. During eighth period, I put on a live feed of the event, and as soon as I got home, I turned it on the TV,” she said. “When hearing of this occurrence, I got a little emotional. It’s so much more than just a church. It’s a unifying symbol of France, and it’s so hard to comprehend that something lost like this can never be brought back.”
Many students, including Ryan Cameron, sophomore, heard about it in school and researched it as soon as they got home.
“I didn’t think it would be too bad until I found the pictures,” he said. “Notre Dame is a heart and icon of Paris, and being a history geek, that’s hard to comprehend, seeing a historical monument burning.”
Olivia Robertucci, junior, was one of the few fortunate students at Southmoreland to be able to see the cathedral in person, along with Scarlett Davidovich, who was not only able to see the cathedral and go inside but was also able to study abroad in France.
“I originally heard about it from my mom. She had texted me while I was in class.When I first heard about it, I have to admit, I did cry a little. I just went numb and really didn’t think it was real,” Robertucci said. “I remember walking into the cathedral and thinking about how old it was. How much history was contained in the walls and just how amerced I was in the culture and history of France. It was indescribable. But thinking about it now and after keeping up with all the news about it, it has just made me so grateful. I’m so glad I had the opportunity to see it how it was originally and be apart of that.”
Robertucci, like many others, was fervent with keeping updated.
“When my mom had told me about it, I was in class so I didn’t really have that many opportunities to check the updates but after school when I got home I checked it the whole night. I read all the different news outlets reporting on it and tried to stay as informed as possible,” she said.
Many, students and teachers alike, were dubious of the cause, but are extremely relieved that it wasn’t a terrorist or hate attack on Paris or Catholics.
“There are tons of rumors going around on what started, or could have started, the fire. Personally, I think it was either due to burning scraps or even a carelessly lit cigarette. Smoking is big in Europe, France especially, and it wouldn’t surprise me if they found that to be the cause,” Robertucci said.
“I fully expected it to be some religious act or attack on Catholics but that theory has since been laid to rest. In my opinion, less and less people care about the quality of their work or output, in doing so they hurt others and in this case, their country. I believe it was some negligent worker who was being irresponsible and left something hot on or near combustible materials. We shall see soon though!” Mr. May said.
Despite the cause, the world was grieving the loss of the roof of the cathedral, as well as the iconic spire that stood atop the historical cathedral.
“The sight of the spire collapsing was gut wrenching,” said Coffman.
Even though they were witnessing such a dreadful sight, the citizens of Paris gathered in the area around the cathedral, singing and praying together.
“I watched a video that someone posted of a group of people singing “Ave Maria” and kneeling in the streets outside the cathedral and just thinking how much their hearts hurt. I think that’s when I cried the most,” Robertucci said. “Seeing just how affected everyone was by this made me feel every type of emotion. It’s so nice to see all the citizens come together in support but it’s terrible that something this bad had to happen.”
Mr. May and Coffman agreed.
“Any time people band together to promote peace or for moral ends, it always warms my heart. In an age where everyone has something to ridicule and everyone sees nothing but differences in one another, it’s great to see people come together for a positive purpose, than to hurt or defame others,” Mr. May said.
“Seeing all of these people come together as one while watching a piece of their history burn was tragically beautiful,” Coffman said.
Mrs. Scott said that she hopes that “[the French] do their best to rebuild” the cathedral. Being inside of it many times, she has experienced what it was truly like to stand in the epicenter of history and take in everything that was located around her.
“The inside is so awe inspiring. Even if you’re not a religious person, you realize that you’re standing inside a piece of history. It’s so hard to put into words,” she said. “It won’t be quick, but I think they’ll rebuild it soon enough.”
Davidovich is greatly looking forward to the new renovations of Notre Dame, so she can have the opportunity to be alive to see both the original and renovated versions of the cathedral.
“I think that it is really cool that I got to experience the original history of the cathedral, but I’m also very excited for the renovations to come for it as well,” she said.
Robertucci is also delighted to hear of the eager reconstruction plans, but still mourns the original cathedral.
“It also makes me feel so sick to think that future generations will never be able to experience that same kind of awe. Sure, there are tons of pictures out there, but pictures will never be the same as seeing it in person or feeling the stone walls and thinking about all the other people years and years back that stood in the same place you are and felt that same stone.”
Even though this event was so disastrous and disheartening for both Paris and abroad, there is a lot of hope not only that the cathedral will be rebuilt, but also that it will help bring the people of Paris closer.
“I really admire what the French president said. He said that the rebuilding of Notre Dame would be their new legacy. It was their job to rebuild the cathedral and keep it standing for another 900 years,” Mrs. Scott said.
Mr. May agreed, noting that the cathedral will “never be the same” considering its age, but hopes the tragedy will “bring Catholics closer together by giving them something to work towards.”
Robertucci, like others in the world, is greatly looking forward to the future and is hoping that this event will not only cause unity throughout the world and in Paris, but will also have a lasting effect on history and the preservation of it to avoid a tragedy like this occurring again. She continues to focus on the good that can come out of this terrible situation.
“Maybe it can act as a symbol of careless behavior and ensure that this never happens again to other important historical places. Or it could be written in the history books as a time of union in a world that’s divided, a time when everyone came together to help rebuild and maintain the history that was there. Or it can show people that we need to stay united, regardless of something of this magnitude happening,” she said. “There’s so much good than can result from this terrible thing and, as heartbreaking as it is, everything happens for a reason. The cathedral burning didn’t just happen for no reason, there has to be something bigger behind it. We may not see it now, next year, or in the next 10 years, but there’s a reason this happened.”
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