“Is Paris Burning?” Hitler reportedly asked the question on 25 August 1944. He had given orders for the French capital to be torched as Nazi forces retreated in order to spite the Allies. The Wehrmacht commanders defied Der Fuhrer’s order and Paris was preserved.* Today, however, one of the great monuments saved from insanity in 1944 is in flames.

As Notre Dame burns, I—like anyone that has experienced the magnificent cathedral—am filled with sadness and reflection. Many others are already holding forth on the cultural loss and meaning of the church. Rather than presume to add meaningfully to that dialogue, I’ll share some of my pictures of the monument in happier times.

Boobah, the Princess, and Mrs Ancient Dan across the Seine from Notre Dame, 12 March 1999 (photo © Daniel C Browning Jr)

I am very thankful that Mrs. Ancient Dan and I decided to invest in giving our children the experience of travel and, hopefully, an appreciation of cultural treasures and a global outlook. One of the things they enjoyed in person was Notre Dame.

Many of my visits to the cathedral were during long layovers at Paris’ CDG airport while leading student study-travel programs to Mediterranean countries. If I had six hours, I felt it was possible to take a train into the city (about 40 minutes), see a couple of sites, and make it back and through security to catch the flight on to Turkey, Greece, Jordan, or Israel. Notre Dame was always on the itinerary. Some thought I was crazy to try it; but in retrospect the risk was rather worth the reward—especially now that the cathedral is un-visitable (at least for the near future).

The 2015 STEP Greece trip group outside the iconic facade of Notre Dame during a blitz-tour on a layover in Paris (photo © Daniel C Browning Jr, )
Notre Dame from the Pont de l’Archevêché, a “Love Lock” bridge, with students on a layover blitz-tour in 2014 (photo © Daniel C Browning Jr, 2014-10-31)
Students at a votive candle stand inside Notre Dame with one of the rose windows behind (photo © Daniel C Browning Jr, 2015-05-28)
The rose window; irreplaceable, I expect (photo © Daniel C Browning Jr, 2015-05-28)
The rose windows get all the glory, but I really like the ones around the apse at the E end (photo © Daniel C Browning Jr, 2014-10-31)

So . . . I have not named the General who defied Hitler’s order to burn Paris. This is intentional, because he did carry out other orders from on high and liquidated the Jews of the city during his tenure as occupying commander. That certainly stains his memory. But I am thankful to him for preserving the city and thus Notre Dame to be appreciated for nearly an additional 75 years.

Notre Dame in happier times (photo © Daniel C Browning Jr, 2015-05-28)

* The story is well told in: Larry Collins and Dominique Lapierre, Is Paris Burning? Penguin Books, 1966. This engaging book was later made into a motion picture.

Thanks for looking! cropped-adicon_square.png


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s