Camden Ward, a UNH student studying abroad in Paris, was joining his host family for dinner when he received an unexpected Facebook message from his mother back home.   

“Notre Dame is on fire!” it read. He also saw the same notification on the BBC.  

Ward and his host family had just sat down for a meal of veal; a bottle of white wine from St. Tropes was just being poured. His host mother immediately stopped chewing, and they both ran to the TV as the events unfolded onscreen in front of their eyes.   

“The news was capturing the immediate shock everyone felt in Paris,” Ward said.  “It wasn’t anger, it wasn’t fear; it was just pure disbelief that this historic monument was totally engulfed in hellish flames coating the building in red and orange as night approached.” 

On April 15, the historic Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, a national landmark of Gothic architecture, caught fire. The structure was in the midst of renovations when, at roughly 6:15 p.m Paris time, the 850 year-old cathedral was engulfed in flames.  By 6:43 p.m, the flames rose to nearly 10 feet high, according to CNN on April 20. It took the Parisian fire department nine hours to put it out.   

Larry Brickner-Wood, a chaplain and the executive director of Durham’s Waysmeet Center, expressed devastation upon hearing the news.   

“Notre Dame is an iconic structure that encompasses so much historical, architectural and artistic significance,” Brickner-Wood said. “It has been a centering force for so many, and a sacred and special place in the Christian tradition.” 

The fire destroyed the spire and the portion of the roof constructed from wood. Prior to construction, many of the artifacts were removed, along with the gargoyles outside of the cathedral which are said to be protectors against evil. Notre Dame notably housed the Holy Crown of thorns that is said to be the one Jesus wore on the cross. It, along with the church’s 8,000-pipe organ, were saved, as well as several other historic artifacts and works of art, according to CNN on April 19. 

French President Emmanuel Macron vowed to rebuild the cathedral; per the BBC, as of April 24, nearly $835 million has been donated to repair Notre Dame.  

“For me, I’ve just been remembering the two times I’ve gone within Notre Dame,” Ward said. “Each time I was floored by the overbearing feeling of ‘presence.’ I’m not a religious person, but regardless it’s hard not to have a tangible ‘feeling’ of how important the building it and its incredible beauty when standing within.”