History went up in flames Monday as millions across the world watched devastation penetrate one of Europe’s oldest monuments.
Parisians lined the streets to watch as fire erupted at the Notre Dame Cathedral, which sits on an island in the Seine river. The building is considered one of the world’s most popular tour attractions, receiving more than 13 million visitors a year.
The disaster was reported after 5 p.m. in Paris by local police. Just an hour later, a church spokesman told French media outlets that all of Notre Dame’s frame had burned after spire collapsed. At almost 9 p.m., the Paris mayor confirmed those living close to the building had been evaluated in case of collapse.
“Everything is burning, nothing will remain from the frame,” Andre Finot, Notre Dame spokesman told French Media.
The peak of the church was undergoing a $6.8 million renovation project, which fire squads have said could have potentially been linked.
At more than 850 years old, the order for the structure was first made by Maurice de Sully, the bishop of Paris, in 1160; the first part completed in 1177.
Often dubbed “the Forest,” the building is made from 1,300 oak trees, every beam coming from a different one.
Despite its age, one of the unique aspects to the historical building is its varying styles including French Gothic, Naturalism and Renaissance, ever changing with the times and architectural tool and design advances, which also inspired Victor Hugo’s, “Notre-Dame de Paris,” — often translated as, “The Hunchback of Notre Dame,” published in 1831.
A couple of details about Notre Dame:
• It has three rose windows, containing 13th-century glass, each pane containing Biblical images.
• Contains five bells, the South Tower Bell the most notable, which sounded in 2015 after the Paris terrorist attacks.
• Home to the great organ, the biggest in France, which contained 8,000 pipes, five keyboards and 109 stops, built in 1403, then replaced in the early 1700s.
• The cathedral was one of the earliest structures built with exterior flying buttresses, which became an iconic aspect of Gothic design.
• Often thought of for its popular gargoyles or chimera, which weren’t there until the 19th century.
It’s actually the two latter that Conway resident Mathilda Hatfield remembers the most.
Hatfield’s mother, Nicole, was French. Married to Gene Hatfield — local artist and University of Central Arkansas professor — the two had three children.
As a group, Mathilda remembers traveling to France every year to spend summer vacations with her mother’s family, which always included a trip to Paris, visiting the many art museums and other cultural sights, including touring Notre Dame Cathedral and attending mass there.
“Every trip that I have ever taken has always included a trip there,” she told the Log Cabin Democrat.
When the devastation hit Monday afternoon, it was Mathilda’s older brother that alerted her.
She said she yelled out and started crying at the “gut-wrenching” news.
“It’s more than just [in] my head,” Mathilda said. “I’ve just reacted viscerally. It is heartbreaking. We’ve had a group text and email going around. Everybody in my family is aware of it.”
She said she’s even had the opportunity to talk with some of her relatives in France, each glued to the T.V. sitting “devastated,” watching Monday’s event unfold.
“It’s just horrific for all of us,” Mathilda said.
The Conway resident, an employee at UCA like her parents before her, told the LCD she’s visited the cathedral more than 30 times, most recently, just last year during the summer of 2018.
“It’s in my blood,” Mathilda said. “It is definitely a part of who I am. It’s a symbol of France and it’s a part of who I am.”
She said Notre Dame is a monument not just to Catholics and to the French but an iconic, world monument.
Mathilda recalled what it was like to visit that great structure. She said it is a huge building, sitting on a really small island, the streets around very narrow, too few cars passing through as a result.
“Then, out of these beautiful, windy Persian streets, rises this medieval cathedral that is just breathtaking,” she said. “When you go visit it, there is a huge square in front where you can stand and get your picture taken. Always lots of people there.”
Mathilda said she remembers climbing the stairs to access the bell towers and walk around the roof line where the visible gargoyles sat.
“Those are some of the memories I had as a child,” she said, sadly. “What seemed to me, never ending stairs, now, in perspective, I’ll never be able to see those gargoyles and those masterpieces again.”
The LCD spoke with Mathilda around 3:40 p.m. Monday afternoon. While on the phone, Mathilda said she was watching French T.V. and heard officials talk about plans to build and hope; that while it would it would never be the same, officials were already looking ahead to the future.
“I look forward to the day that I can see it as it is being rebuilt,” she said. “It’s just very, very sad.”
While Mathilda had the opportunity to enjoy the historical structure many times, other local residents also took to Facebook to share their grief as well, including UCA First Lady Jenny Davis. Davis and her family had just visited the Parisian city in December 2018.
“When I saw the news my first reaction was horror, and then, disbelief,” she said. “It had stood for over 800 years and is the center of the oldest part of Paris. Watching something that has survived revolutions and world wars burn [was] incredibly sad.”
Davis said Notre Dame was and is more than “just a building.”
“It is the history and beating heart of Paris,” she said. “I cannot imagine how the Parisians are dealing with this tragedy. I don’t think Americans can point to one building that is representative of us as a people, but the French people could and that building was Notre Dame.”
Recalling their winter trip, Davis said her family was “awed” by several aspects of the structure, including its overall beauty.
“We have seen cathedrals across Europe, in Spain, Italy, and England, and those were overwrought and cluttered compared to Notre Dame,” she said. “It was elegant and the stained glass lit up the interior.”
On top of that, Davis said mass was also being held while they were there, the cathedral decked out for Christmas.
“It felt holy, not like a tourist attraction,” she said. “Also, the personalities of the stonemasons are evident in the carvings, which had the faces of people who could have been walking among us.”
Davis said during that visit, they were also intrigued by the square outside, which was bustling.
“It truly was the beating heart of Paris,” she said.
French President Emmanuel Macron has already announced that, starting Tuesday, he would launch an international fundraising campaign to rebuild, noting the cathedral’s facade and two main towers didn’t collapse during the fire.
“I’m telling you all tonight — we will rebuild this cathedral together,” Macron told news outlets present at the fire scene. “This is probably part of the French destiny [and] we will do it in the next years. Starting tomorrow, a national donation scheme will be started that will extend beyond our borders.’
The Associated Press contributed to this article