Thousands Watched in Tears as Fire Ravaged This Parisian Landmark

The centuries-old, iconic Notre Dame Cathedral was engulfed in massive flames for hours.
Tuesday 16 April 2019
A massive blaze devastated large parts of the 850-year-old church. Photo: AFP

Thibaud Binétruy was walking home Monday when he saw smoke rising in the distance. Notre Dame Cathedral, the beloved landmark in the heart of Paris, was engulfed in flames. “It’s awful to see such a symbol disappearing in front of you. It’s been there for so many years and in a few minutes half of it disappears… crazy,” Binétruy told CNN.

“Paris without Notre Dame … madness,” he added. His words echoed the anguish and disbelief felt by many Parisians as they watched the historic structure burn. CNN correspondent Hadas Gold said people crowded the banks of the Seine to gaze helplessly at the unthinkable.

Many Parisians, who grew up with the gothic structure towering over the river, burst into tears and hugged each other as the church succumbed to flames and billowing clouds of smoke. The city was eerily quiet, save for the helicopters and fire trucks. Katherine Finney said she and other onlookers couldn’t even comprehend what was happening at first. “I could see that the spire was on fire and thought that there was no way that it was the Notre Dame,” Finney told CNN.

But as the historic cathedral continued to burn, crowds let out audible gasps and groans. “There were lots of people all gathering around. Everyone was really quiet,” said Finney, an American tourist who has visited the cathedral multiple times.

When the cathedral’s spire fell, everyone around her screamed. Some people were even moved to tears. “It’s the saddest thing I’ve ever witnessed – the crowd standing there, a lot of people crying,” Finney said. “It was just a horrible tragedy.”

When the Notre Dame spokesman said “everything is burning, nothing will remain from the frame,” it felt like a stab in our collective soul, CNN opinion contributor Frida Ghitis wrote.

The massive, majestic Notre Dame Cathedral, which survived World Wars I and II, looked like it had been there forever. It is home to various artefacts, artwork and relics collected over the centuries, each with its own story, and a major religious and cultural symbol of France.

For generations, it has been a place of pilgrimage and prayer, and an important sacred site to Catholics across the world. This week is Holy Week, when millions of Western Christians mark the death and resurrection of Jesus. Under normal circumstances, Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris would have been preparing to display its holy relics to the faithful on Good Friday.

“Over 800 years Notre Dame stood there, witnessing and participating in history. It was under its soaring vault, in 1804, that Napoleon crowned himself emperor and then crowned his beloved Josephine. Unlike previous rulers, he didn’t let the Pope place the crown. In that church, he proclaimed he didn’t need the Church’s approval. It was in Notre Dame that 15-year-old Mary Queen of Scots married the 14-year-old French dauphin, Francis, in 1558. It was Notre Dame that inspired Victor Hugo to give us, all of us, his immortal Hunchback of Notre Dame,” Ghiis wrote.

Notre Dame (2) - Notre Dame
A file photo taken on 15 July 2018 shows the Notre Dame de Paris Cathedral, in the French capital Paris. Photo: Thomas SAMSON / AFP

“That is French history, but it is also ours,” Ghitis added.

Parisians, still tender after a series of deadly terrorist attacks in the French capital in 2015, showed resilience Monday in the face of disaster. Some sang the French national anthem, while others gathered at the city’s bistros to share meals and drink wine as the cathedral continued to burn.

Meanwhile, French President Emmanuel Macron has vowed to rebuild Notre Dame Cathedral. He said while the “worst had been avoided” and the facade and two towers saved “the next hours will be difficult”. “And we will rebuild Notre-Dame because it is what the French expect,” AFP quoted him as saying, describing Notre Dame as “the epicentre of our life” and the cathedral of “all the French”, whether religious or not.

Source: CNN, AFP

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