Notre Dame, Restorations, et le Moi
I used to travel to Paris fairly often about twenty years ago for academic and professional reasons. For I don’t know how long, the inside of Notre Dame back then was all but invisible behind a bewildering maze of scaffolding as various parts of the interior were being restored (all that, of course, years before the recent fire). But you still visited the cathedral whenever you were in Paris because it was. . .Notre Dame de Paris.
One evening after a day of work, I ducked in briefly. Evening prayer was underway near the main altar. I joined the group, about twenty people. Afterward, the priest asked everyone to stay as long as they liked but to be considerate of the staff, who wanted to lock up soon and get home to their families.
Everyone else seemed to have been local because they all immediately left. It was only then that I realized that the scaffolding was all gone. And I slowly walked back, entirely alone and utterly enchanted, through one of the most remarkable – just restored – sacred spaces in all of Christianity.
I’m hardly the only one to have had such an unforgettable, life-changing experience there. During Vespers at Notre Dame on Christmas Day 1886, the great modern poet Paul Claudel, previously a non-believer, recorded, “In an instant, my heart was touched, and I believed.”