On April 15, 850 years of history and a symbol of global Catholicism went up in flames as the historic Notre Dame Cathedral was massively devastated.
Notre-Dame de Paris, meaning “Our Lady of Paris,” is considered to be the pinnacle of French-Gothic architecture and housed important Christian artifacts such as the Crown of Thorns and a piece of the original crucifix.
The fire that ravished the Paris cathedral lasted for 15 hours while over 400 firefighters contained the blaze. While this event transpired away from Maryville, its impact was felt right here.
Northwest tennis graduate assistant Romain Boissinot is a native of France. The Le Pellenn native came to Northwest to play tennis in 2014 and has stayed to help tennis coach Mark Rosewell with the team.
Boissinot explained the relevance of the building and what it means to him.
“Notre Dame represents the history of France; this is one of the most famous monuments in the world,” Boissinot said. “To me, that is really a part of our history that burned. Watching it from afar is a weird feeling; it increases, even more, the sadness as I am not in my home country and make you miss your country even more.”
Some of the most prominent features of the ancient building were destroyed during the blaze. The central spire, that was built in the 19th century, collapsed. Along with the spire, the 13th-century oak roof, commonly referred to as “the forest” because it took a forest to build, was also turned to ashes.
The start of the fire was described by officials as an accident, and they do not believe there was any malice involved.
Freshman tennis athlete Louis Compas, like Boissinot, is a native of France. Compas said his best memory of the Cathedral was passing by it in Paris on the way to see his sister while she was studying in the city. During the hour and a half drive, Compas remembered being captivated by its grandeur.
“Notre Dame is a symbol of France,” Compas said. “It represents the history and the legacy of every man and woman who lived on this land before and created this beautiful country I grew up in.”
When tragedy struck, the news moved fast. Compas said he was in contact with his loved ones back in France when he heard what was happening.
“It was terrible,” Compas said. “I knew, thanks to my parents. I was talking with them on the phone and they were watching the news live. They were shocked. I felt really stunned and yet very connected to the event and extensively to my people.”
Things don’t stop for the tennis team as the men will be in action April 19 when they travel to Fulton for a non-conference match against William Woods. Boissinot said with the tragedy he doesn’t expect it to get in the way of his work.
“I don’t think it will affect the way I work with the team,” Boissinot said. “It is a very sad event but it (won’t) change my daily life.”
Firefighters were able to save the iconic bell towers that were made famous in Victor Hugo's tale "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" along with the elaborate stone façade.
With so many people discussing the Notre Dame and the events that took place, Boissinot said he wants people to know the influence the historical structure has.
“The main thing was more to explain to other people the importance it has in our history and how long Notre Dame has been there,” Boissinot said.
For Compas, this event, while devastating, brought out a sense of pride for his country and an eerie familiar feeling of the past.
“I feel like we always connect to our roots in the darkest moments,” Compas said. “I felt this sense of belonging and patriotism as I did during the dreadful terrorist attacks of 2015 in Paris. It is a weird feeling to describe; the destruction of such a symbol made me feel like a part of me was burning as well.”
In the aftermath of the accident, teams are surveying the structural integrity of the cathedral and will attempt to preserve as much of the building as they can. French Interior Minister Christophe Castaner explained to reporters it will take “days and months” to repair the damages.
French President Emmanuel Macron has said he wants the cathedral rebuilt in five years. Meanwhile, there have already been millions of private donations along with 10 million euros ($11.3 million) from Île-de-France and 50 million euros ($56.45 million) from Paris City Hall for rebuilding efforts.
“This is a virtue I love about my country we always know how to rise from ashes, and I am convinced we will restore this amazing patrimony symbol of our common roots and heritage,” Compas said.