Par Cécile Sepulchre Photos Capucineplume
The police whistles were a little more strident than usual at Place Maubert. However, it was really the smoke that gave it away. That, and the group of passers-by, poorly controlled by the police, that was rushing towards the end of the Rue de Bièvre, towards the Seine banks, to Notre Dame. In the streets, unusual Japanese bridegrooms pulled themselves together, photographed unmercifully by a photographer who was conscientiously turning his back on what should have been the largest scoop of his life. On the banks, only a handful of passers-by, petrified, or sometimes in tears, were facing the cathedral.
None of the rumors of a fire that I heard on my way to the cathedral had prepared me for the vision of horror that awaited me. Immense flames devoured the roof, which so lavishly covered Notre Dame. In just a few minutes, she was engulfed, leaving only a desolate void. Next, the flames attacked the heart and the arrow. All eyes were drawn towards this Viollet le Duc arrow, so contested, so proud, yet so quickly stripped bare. Soon there remained only a thin ridge that everyone began to stare at, waiting for its inescapable fall. Total grief before such beauty going up in smoke.
This Gothic view of Notre Dame was an extraordinary treat that I had the privilege of admiring on a daily basis. The front and the interior of the cathedral were abandoned to 13,000 daily tourists, but the rear part of the cathedral continued to belong to the life of the neighborhood. There were walks and concerts in the garden, sandboxes for children, cherished moments on the bridge of Archeveché, the bridge of lovers and Asian brides and grooms. We enjoyed the sunsets and the play of lights on the carved stones, the concerts, the evening walks to get an ice-cream on the Quai d’Orléans, the cocktails on the riverine barges, the tango sessions on the quays. Whatever the angle of view, Notre Dame dominated everything, sublime and timeless. A masterpiece, suddenly devoured by the flames, which threatened to collapse…
Facing the shaky arrow, I had this same impression of helplessness and amazement as during the minutes preceding the fall of the New York Twin Towers. Another emblematic capital city building, a synonym of strength and invulnerability. The same fear also for what would happen next. Would the vault and lacework of stone that constitute the walls of the nave resist? The tower then collapsed onto the main roof, which burned, in turn. The centenarian, wooden poles loomed over the flames until they began to collapse one by one, into the inferno. From that point, we began to fear that the two towers may fall into each other’s arms, bringing the whole structure down with them. Would the bells begin to melt? But the skies, with the help of the firemen, decided otherwise, and the fire rushed back to the other end, burning the scaffolding. Perched on a tower, armed with derisive water spears, firemen braved the flames.
On the banks, the crowd was growing, pushed back to the Latin Quarter by the police, while the fire was gradually subsiding. A silent and serious crowd communicating through sorrow. A religious song then rose, calm and soothing. Groups of discreet Catholics had rushed to the bedside of the wounded. All night, they took turns amidst murmurs and songs, facing the ghostly mass of Notre Dame, glowing at first, then dark, so dark.
But in the early morning, in the gray Parisian light, Notre Dame was still there. Still firmly camped on her island, in her majestic beauty. Ready to challenge men for a few more centuries …