Local French, faith and art community members reflect after Notre Dame fire

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- After hearing of the fire that engulfed the Notre Dame, dozens in Kansas City with special connections took time to reflect on the cathedral's magnitude.

The cathedral, named after the blessed mother, is a sacred site for believers in the Catholic Church.

“There’s something about these old cathedrals that people want to see because it takes them to the root of who we are,” said Father Richard Storey of Curé of Ars Church in Leawood.

He visited Notre Dame twice last year and called the cathedral "iconic.

“Every religion throughout the world comes to see this great cathedral, and they know it’s somewhere special,” Storey said.

As French President Emmanuel Macron promised to rebuild, Storey said the fire should serve as a reminder that it’s the people who make the church – not the building.

“It might not look exactly like it once did, but it will be something 900 years from now that will be just as sacred,” Storey said.

Although it’s unclear if any art was lost in the fire, the mayor of Paris tweeted that the “Crown of Thorns” – one of the most treasured items that’s often on display during Holy Week – was saved.

Julian Zugazagotia, director and CEO at the Nelson-Atkins Museum in Kansas City, lived in Paris for nearly 20 years and studied the landmark as an architectural monument.

“It’s a conquest of the engineering mind and the art coming together to make buildings higher than they were ever before,” Zugazagotia said.

Built during medieval times, the cathedral is nestled in the center of Paris and is considered a jewel of Gothic architecture.

“These towering figures were a symbol of power and the possibility of transcendence, and so over the years, of course, they become the symbols of the city,” Zugazagotia said.

This isn’t the first time France has ached over the loss of an iconic cathedral.

Doran Cart, the senior curator at National World War I Museum and Memorial, said the saddest part of the fire at Notre Dame might be that the cathedral survived two world wars but not the damage of Monday’s smoke and flames.

The French also mourned the loss of Cathedral Reims during World War One. France has since rebuilt it, but parts of the cathedral are on display at the World War I Museum.

Also part of the collection are postcards from American soldiers sent home to document the war and their time in France; the cards were about two francs at the time, or less than a penny.

The pieces of Cathedral Reims are actually the oldest things in the museum’s display; the church was built in the 14th century.

"In our museum here we have several fragments from the Cathedral Reims that was destroyed in WWI. It’s where kings were coronated and played an important role in the fabric of France," Cart said.

“You walk around and there are always people there," he said. "Always people wanting to be there, regardless of anything other than, this idea of a landmark, to hold onto something that is seen as permanent. It’s not completely gone but whatever is left will give enough fabric to restore it.”

Pointing at some of the postcards, Cart reminisced about his visit to Notre Dame.

“This is exactly the view I was thinking about, right up at that window," he said. “You can’t think about it without thinking about the stonemasons and the carvers and the people who cut the wood. All the people that worked on it, all the people that visited it, all the people who worshiped there. That’s really what I think about, is the humanity that was behind it.”

“The parallels are almost exact because you can go now to Reim, France, and you can see the completely restored cathedral," he said. "It’s there and magnificent.”

Alliance Francaise de KC already had Monday night’s board meeting on the books, but after Notre Dame burned before the world, it certainly became the top agenda item.

Board member Dorothee Werner traveled home to France for her nephew’s baptism last fall. She grew up with Notre Dame the way Kansas Citians would Liberty Memorial or Arrowhead Stadium.

“I immediately texted my family, my siblings, just to see if everybody was OK," she said. "That’s your first reaction when something happens in your hometown. They’re all fine, but everybody is so sad.”

“Two hundred years to build, 800 years old, and 10 hours to burn," group president Patrick Raymond said. "Please stay tuned with us. We’ll get back to everybody on how they can help. Because that’s kind of what’s on top of all of our minds right now: How can we help?”

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