1n 1976, Shay and I decided to take a longer than usual holiday in Europe. It proved to be a balancing act deciding about how and where to spend time and the amount of spending money we had at our disposal. (We were only a year married with a new mortgage!!!)
THUMBING AROUND SPAIN AND FRANCE
We left Dublin to travel by ferry to Liverpool with the promise of a truck ride to Portsmouth, boat again to San Sebastian (I can still remember the sea sickness!!!), sharing a car with an English couple through Zaragoza to Benidorm and then hitch-hiking with many stops back along the coast to Barcelona,. With money running out, our trip through France was fast and furious: a night in Lyon, a night in Paris before finding last lift to Cherbourg. There, thanks to me still having a student card, we were able to afford the ferry back to Rosslare.
PARIS AT LAST AND VICTOR HUGO
With limited funds in Paris, we had to decide on ONE tourist attraction to visit, the others we could walk by and experience from outside. And Notre Dame Cathedral was the chosen venue!
I had seen Charles Laughton as Quasimodo swinging from the cathedral tower to rescue Esmerelda (Maureen O’Hara) from the gallows to take her back to “sanctuary” within the holy walls. The film was based on Victor Hugo’s novel, The Hunchback of Notre Dame.
In the novel, the heroine was eventually hanged, but Hugo’s real heroine, the cathedral had a far happier ending. The renewal of interest brought about by the famous book prompted a major restoration project of the crumbling Cathedral.
As I watched its destruction yesterday I realized how lucky I was: I chose Notre Dame in 1975 in preference to the many other iconic Parisian buildings.
I read today that the building of Notre Dame began in 1180 and was largely completed in the next 80 years. However work continued long after that: the tower was replaced in 1786. Over the centuries, the cathedral survived riots, revolutions, invaders, and occupations. Napoleon Bonaparte was crowned and later married there. When Paris was liberated after the Nazi occupation in 1944, the city celebrated a mass at Notre Dame.
Among the precious artworks, jewels, and relics stored inside were a (purported) piece of the cross on which Jesus was crucified and the actual crown of thorns he wore. The crown was brought out for veneration on the first Friday of the month, and every Friday during Lent.
DO IT NOW!
I’m not sure I knew any of this as we queued for hours in 1975 to visit the Cathedral. But I do remember it was worth it: the beautiful stained glass windows, the hundreds of steps to the top of the tower, the Pieta statue, the bells ringing. And after its destruction yesterday, I realize that nothing is here forever – take every chance you get to “do your bucket list”.