Aside from Saint Basil’s Cathedral in Red Square and Saint Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City, the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris is one of the most recognizable churches in the world and as much a part of the landscape of Paris as the Eiffel Tower.
A prime example of French Gothic Architecture with distinctive features like the rows of flying buttresses, Notre Dame has not only been an important Catholic landmark, but one that is treasured by the world.
Sadly, a fire that began on the roof of the church Monday evening caused extensive damage to 850-year-old medieval church, causing the spire and roof to collapse. Paris firefighters battled the blaze for over nine hours in a valiant effort to save most of the structure.
East Boston native Kate Jackson who was vacationing with her daughter, a family friend and the friend’s daughter and was inside Notre Dame just a few hours before the fire started.
Jackson, the daughter of former East Boston District Court Judge Paul Mahoney, said the entire fire was ‘surreal.’
“I’m here with my daughter for her sweet 16,” said Jackson. “We’ve been planning this trip since she was 10. My friend Nicola and her daughter joined us as well.”
On social media Jackson was documenting the group’s visit to Notre Dame.
“We were there at 5 p.m. Paris time, and then the fire started around 6:30 p.m.,” said Jackson.
After spending some time walking around the church’s grounds, the unthinkable happened.
“It was surreal,” said Jackson. “We were walking around the grounds of Notre Dame because the lines were too long to go to the top so we were due to return Tuesday morning. We’d been inside previously on a different trip but never to the very top. We sat at a cafe across the street and had some cappuccinos, facing and admiring the church, then walked back to hotel, which is one block from Notre Dame. We got ready to go for dinner and when we walked out the front door, we saw the smoke and heard sirens rushing to the scene.”
Jackson said Twitter was abuzz about terrorism so the initial vibe was fear.
“We went to dinner and news came in the fire was accidental,” she said. “We walked back over after and the mood was somber, solemn. People were openly weeping in the streets. So it was very emotional. When the spire collapsed, people screamed and it got a bit panicky but after that, the silence was incredible. I think the realization set in that we were witnessing the destruction of hundreds of years of art, history and architecture. This is a church that survived World War II, but not a renovation. So much is lost. They are saying in France, it’ll take more than 10 years to repair.”
During the fire, Jackson not only posted pictures of the fire that gutted the historic church but also pictures of shocked Parisians and crowds of tourists lining the boulevard along Left Bank. “The crowds stretches for blocks,” she said. “One minute we were at this beautiful, sacred, historic place one hour before the fire started. There was just a helpless mourning as the fire burned one day after Palm Sunday.”