MOURNING NOTRE DAME: Locals recall visits, cathedral’s impact

Published 2:23 am Wednesday, April 17, 2019

As the Notre Dame Cathedral was engulfed in flames Monday, several Andalusians watched their memories go up in flames as well.

Jennifer Dinwiddie has visited the historic landmark twice.

“The first time that I went was in 1998,” Dinwiddie said. “It was for my 20th wedding anniversary and we were actually living in Spain at the time because I was stationed there with the Navy. I remember going to the top and looking out over the city of Paris and it was just gorgeous.”

Dinwiddie said that she especially remembers that first time went all the way to the top of the cathedral to look at the gargoyles.

“It was so neat to look at those gargoyles,” Dinwiddie said. “I collect them, so it was amazing to see them up close and personal.”

The second time that Dinwiddie went to the cathedral, it was with her sister-in-law.

“My sister-in-law came to visit us in England,” Dinwiddie said. “Unfortunately I did not go up to see the gargoyles that time, but I was still in awe of the magnificent building.”

Dinwiddie said that she feels saddened for France’s cultural loss.

“I feel saddened for the cultural loss,” Dinwiddie said. “I also feel bad for the company that was doing the reconstruction when it happened. I don’t know if they are going to feel any guilt, or what they are feeling. It is just an iconic landmark. There is so much history that that building has seen. I mean, those bells have tolled and rung for so much history and I am saddened by that.”

Although the damage is a tragic loss to people all over the world, Dinwiddie said that people don’t need to forget about the arson going on in the United States.

“Even though we have lost this huge bit of history,” Dinwiddie said, “we still have to keep in mind the churches here that we are losing due to arson. I don’t think that the Notre Dame was burned due to misbehavior, but there were three churches in the St. Landry Parish that were burned two weeks ago. We still have to remember churches like those.”

Andalusia High School English teacher Dawn Thompson is no stranger to the cathedral.

Since 1987, she has gone by herself and taken several students to marvel at its architecture.

“In 1987, I went with Auburn University to study abroad and that is the first time that I saw the Notre Dame,” Thompson said. “In 1990, I went on my honeymoon. Then I took students in 1999, 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2015.”

Thompson said that first time that she saw the building she was completely overwhelmed.

“I had studied Gothic architecture and it was just a truly majestic and holy place,” Thompson said. “My favorite spot to see the building was in the back. I would always walk along the side street and just take the time to look at all of the small details, but from the back it is such a beautiful view. At night, when it is illuminated, it is incredible as well.”

She believes that it is the most important structure in Paris.

“It is the most important structure in Paris because of the religious value, the architecture, the art itself, the symbolism and the historical value,” Thompson said. “Just with the religious significance of the cathedral and how it drew the eyes of people up towards God and how it is in the shape of a cross and then the rose window, there is just so much there.”

Thompson wants the Notre Dame to be remembered as a place of beauty and peace.

“The entire building is a symbol of salvation,” Thompson said. “When you were there, it just felt like you were complete.”

Monday morning, Thompson was planning a trip to Paris before she heard the news of the fire. She said she was in disbelief.

“I saw a picture where it was on fire and at first I thought it was a terrorist attack,” Thompson said. “I thought that it was going to be the end of the world, even though I don’t feel a lot better that it was an accident. I was planning an adult trip to Paris and of course we would have stopped there, but now I don’t want to go back. Paris will never be the same.”

Andalusia High School alumna Robynn Cowan was among the students who traveled to the Notre Dame with Thompson in the summer of 2011. She said that it was a childhood dream come true.

“When I was a little girl, my favorite Disney movie was ‘The Hunchback of Notre Dame,’ ” Cowan said. “So when I heard that we were going there, I was more excited about that than anything else on the trip. Just to be there in that building, it was breathtaking.”

Cowan said that the most memorable thing about the building was the front.

“The tour person that we were with told us about the artwork on the front of the building,” Cowan said. “He told us that it was pretty much a depiction of Judgment Day. It has God on one side with angels and then the devil with scales and people in chains on the other side. I just thought it was amazing how somebody would put that story on the front of a building and have it in that much detail.”

When Cowan heard the news of the fire, she immediately felt heartbroken.

“I was keeping tabs to see just how bad the fire was,” Cowan said. “With social media these days you never know, so I thought that it was going to be burned to the ground. I am relieved that everything wasn’t completely destroyed, but I am still so heartbroken that it even happened.”