Notre Dame Cathedral is reaching out for restoration funds, and one of the first events to promote global awareness was a sound and light show.
In all the years I have lived here and even before, I have never seen a sound and light show at Notre Dame and it was truly spectacular!
Notre Dame has never been a mere tourist attraction for me, but a beloved place of worship in this city of light and love, and was even my “parish” church when I lived in the fifth.
I have written before how I would often go to the last mass in the evening there because I loved the up rare feelings of almost being alone in the cathedral as they dimmed the lights and others are filing out.
I would linger afterwards in front of the altar as much as I could, soaking up the experience before being asked to leave before closing.
I loved those rare moments of silence that enveloped around the pillars and aisles of this magnificent cathedral, adding to mysterious sacredness of it all.
As usual, I would touch the base of those ancient pillars on the way out, reminded of all the faithful who have walked pass them before me in prayerful reverence.
The whole affair was to commemorate the beginning 100 year anniversary of the ending of World War I, called the Great War. World War I started in July of 1914 and ended on November 11, 1918.
It was one of the bloodiest and devastating wars in history, killing over 9 million soldiers. The surrounding countryside of Verdun in Northern France saw the longest and deadliest battle of the Western front on French soil.
Over 9 million soldiers and 7 million civilian were killed during this horrendous war that pulled in many countries, including American forces.
The story line was about an American soldier, gravely wounded and the French nurse taking care of him. During the time in her care, he lamented about never having seen Notre Dame and how it was a dream of his to see her in his lifetime.
For almost 1000 years, Notre Dame and her protruding spires and gargoyles has occupied this sacred ground.
The grounds in front are considered the dead center of Paris and point zero if measuring distances in kilometers to all other cities in the country from Paris.
This cathedral receives over 14 million visitors a year, who walk through her always crowded aisles.
Notre Dame looks like she is in great shape as the facade was recently cleaned and renovated, but the reality is there is ongoing slow crumbling of the massive stonework from which she was built.
Throughout the many years pollution, acid rain and just plain wear and tear due to climatic elements such as storms and wind have fragilized her monumental supportive structure.
Some of the heads of gargoyles are missing and some statues are cracked. PVC piping can be seen poking out from some to carry off accumulated water and bare steel rods too used in previous restoration to strengthen them.
Scrolls and decorative carvings that embellish the flying buttresses, that support the 250 tons ceiling and roof, have fallen or in such bad shape, that several have been removed and are now neatly arranged in the back of the cathedral, looking like a layered stone graveyard.
The French government, which owns the property doles out about 2 million per year for upkeep, but restoration costs are said to be around 100 million euros for the next 20 years and 150 million euros for the next 150 years.
The last massive restoration was in 1845, in part due to Victor Hugo’s novel, Notre Dame de Paris revitalizing the cultural significance of preserving this jewel.
Call for benefactors and sponsors to help cover some of the costs have been launched and this light and sound show was one of the first events in an attempt to attract attention to the drastic restoration needed.
A branch of Friends of Notre Dame has been set up in America, as in the past private American philanthropy has help in the restoration of Versailles.
Additionally, when the American troops helped liberate France in World War I , they celebrated in front of the cathedral.
Last friday night was fairly cold when I headed out for the sound and light show that had to be reserved in advance, though free, for security reasons. It is an easy and short trip on metro line 4, existing at Cité.
Security was tight and very welcomed these days, with the whole grounds in front and on the sides including streets cordoned off with barricades, police vehicles and parading armed soldiers.
The Paris police department occupies a huge block of buildings in front of the cathedral and was lit is festive colours of red, bleu and white.
The cathedral looks beautiful enough taking up a soft golden glow at nightfall, but when the first colours were splashed across the facade it took on a more visual feast for the eyes.
The oranges and reds, and blue hues spilled across the facade changing the whole visual dimension of the two towers towering above the admiring crowds below.
The music added a dramatic flair as the nurse recounted Notre Dame’ s story to her severely wounded patient.
There was even a light moment of cancan music splashing a kaleidoscope of bright colors to remind him of the joyous aspect of Paris.
The sound and light show went on for about 25 minutes and afterwards huge wooden doors of the cathedral slowly opened and the voluminous mass of people were invited to go inside.
Though rather tightly squeezed like going through a funnel entering the entrance, I was amazed that people were so respectful, with surprisingly no pushing and shoving, which can occur often in crowds in Paris.
The colours slowly changed to a deep red fading back into the blues.
Because of the immense crowds, I could not linger as much as before, but the few minutes in such visual glory was nice enough.
Before heading home, I walked behind the gardens of the cathedral to Ile Saint Louis to take it another favorite view of the Seine, with the bateaux mouches plying around the Ile de la Cité, lighting the old cobblestone banks.
I often wondered the stories that Notre Dame could recount from her ancient stones, and tonight, in some mysterious ways, her voice was heard.