The wounded heart of Paris

Notre Dame de Paris.
The three images of the Cathedral are photographs of postcards in my Parisian diaries.

The white dome of the Sacré-Cœur, floating like some fairy tale castle against the blackness was my very first glimpse of Paris. It was a school trip, we were no more than children… and I fell in love with the city there and then. My eyes filled with tears, my heart with memories and emotions that should not have been mine, I felt that I had come home.

We stayed at the Lycée Henri-IV, just behind the Pantheon. Sneaking out, illicitly, before breakfast, very early next morning, I found myself wandering down the Rue Mouffetard. A tramp was curled around his wine bottle in a doorway. Market stalls were being set up. Everything smelled of coffee and new bread… and I determined that one day, when I was old enough, I would come back.

We were shown ‘all’ the sights… as if you can see all Paris has to offer in two weeks!… and the first place we visited was just a short walk down the Boulevard Saint Michel… the great Cathedral of Notre Dame de Paris, that has stood at the heart of the city for over eight hundred years..

I remember that visit vividly. Although I would one day learn to know the place intimately, that was the only guided tour I ever took there. We were shown how the cathedral was built on an island in the middle of the Seine and how, on the parvis in front of it, from where all distances are measured to Paris, the remains of the many layers of Parisians had just been found, going as far back as our imaginations could take us.

St Denis, over the Portal of the Virgin, Notre Dame. Photo: Thesupermat License: CC-BY-SA 3.0

We were shown the statue of the headless saint in the frieze by the door. Not, we were told, John the Baptist, as many would imagine, but Saint Denis…and we learned his story and that relics of the saint had been placed in the tower, along with those of Saint Genevieve, the patron saint of the city.  We climbed the tower and heard the bells ring… and learned of Victor Hugo and his famous Hunchback, saw the gallery of kings…and learned how important this place had been throughout French history.

One memory that stands out, especially given where life has led me, is standing beneath the great rose windows, looking into the rainbow of light that streamed through the delicate tracery. Our guide told us that you could tell their age from the way the ‘spokes’ of the window did not point straight up, but were offset either side of the vertical. If you looked long enough, he said, the window would seem to turn, like a wheel, rather than staying still as ’12 o’clock’ windows would do. I watched…and was lost in the whirl of colour and stories, caught in a world of glass.

North Rose Window at Notre Dame de Paris. Photo by Julie Anne Workman. License: CC-BY-SA 3.0

It was almost ten years before I went back and Notre Dame was one of the first places I went, lighting a candle in  gratitude. Having escaped a dreadful marriage, I had applied to work abroad. I was told I would probably not get the country I wanted, which was France, and it would probably be at least six months before I got a job offer. Two weeks later, I started work in Paris.

Over the next few years, I walked almost every inch of that city. I grew to know her moods, her shadows and her laughter…and I loved her. I spent my time with the artists in Montmartre, made friends there, talked through more nights than I slept and had the time of my life. I only left to marry an itinerant Parisien musician and make a home with him in Vichy.

There were a couple of trips to Paris, before our first son was born, and a final one when, reluctantly, we moved back to England to care for my mother… who did not actually need us by the time we got here after all.

That was okay, Paris was always there, waiting. Always a promise. One day, I would go back, and the first thing I would do would be to light a candle once more at Notre Dame. That was over thirty years ago. I have not been able to return, yet, and Paris still tugs at my heartstrings.

“…reduite en cendres…” sang the voice on the car stereo as I switched on the ignition after hearing the news of the fire at Notre Dame… ‘reduced to cinders…’. Tears that had been held in my heart finally spilled over as I listened to my ex-husband’s voice. The song, a typically French waltz, is one of my favourites. It captures something of the essence of the City of Light and, although it was written long after our ways had parted, it echoes my own love of the city, from its beautiful façade to its tawdry shadows. Although ‘my’ Paris was high on the Butte in Montmartre, the Cathedral symbolises the heart of the city in some indefinable way and I felt the grief of the city as keenly as if I were there.

The news is not as dire as it could be. No lives were lost. The building itself appears to be structurally sound. Many of the treasures and religious artefacts were saved. The rose windows appear to have survived and the statues of the Apostles that normally line the roof had just been removed for restoration works. The man who created them would have been glad… one of those statues was a self portrait, turned in the opposite direction from the others, to survey his creation.

The Cathedral will rise again, not only because of its beauty, its history, or its place in the religious life of the country, but because the fire strikes at the heart of France and the French will not have it any other way.

Paris,“ sang Maurice Chevalier, “sera toujours Paris.“ Paris will always be Paris, and it would not be the same without that great ship of stone, sailing through time on the Île de la Cité. And one day, perhaps, I will still light that candle.

About Sue Vincent

Sue Vincent is a Yorkshire-born writer and one of the Directors of The Silent Eye, a modern Mystery School. She writes alone and with Stuart France, exploring ancient myths, the mysterious landscape of Albion and the inner journey of the soul. Find out more at France and Vincent. She is owned by a small dog who also blogs. Follow her at and on Twitter @SCVincent. Find her books on Goodreads and follow her on Amazon worldwide to find out about new releases and offers. Email:
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53 Responses to The wounded heart of Paris

  1. Jordy says:

    Blessed be, Sue. A lovely share. My heart hurt as I learned of the fire. Your words are comforting. Jordis xxx


  2. A sad day, Sue. I am pleased the Rose windows survived- they look amazing. I went to Paris as a teenager, but didn’t visit Notre Dame. Don’t think I could have appreciated it’s importance at that age anyway. I am sure rebuilding will begin straight away.


    • Sue Vincent says:

      The windows were incredible and I was hoping against hope that, like the great East window at Selby that was threatened by fire, they would survive. By all accounts, this will be made just one small chapter in Notre Dame’s long history.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Pingback: The wounded heart of Paris — Sue Vincent’s Daily Echo | yazım'yazgısı (typography)

  4. Reblogged this on Musings on Life & Experience and commented:
    Sue Vincent’s heartfelt remembrances of the Paris she knew years ago and her tribute to it and Notre Dame de Paris.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Paris is the anchor for many of us, and Notre Dame is the anchor of Paris. To all who sail in her…

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Darlene says:

    A perfect tribute to a beautiful place and how it affected you. I was there for the first time just last year. So glad I made it at last.


  7. ksbeth says:

    lovely tribute, sue –


  8. Kalpana says:

    Thanks for sharing. So tragic – that fire in such an iconic church.


  9. Mary Smith says:

    A beautiful tribute, Sue and I hope you will light a candle there again.


  10. I had been wondering if you’d visited – and, more so, if I’d see something about it on the blog! What a nice tribute.


  11. stevetanham says:

    Reblogged this on Sun in Gemini and commented:
    Paris and Notre Dame – a very special place for Sue Vincent…

    Liked by 1 person

  12. iScriblr says:

    What a lovely share!❤️


  13. willowdot21 says:

    And she lives Sue, even some of the windows. I keep saying this , the true Miricale is that no one died, sadly a fireman was injured. She will bloom again because she is meant to, as you say this is just part of her story.💜


  14. dgkaye says:

    A moving tribute to beautiful Notre Dame Cathedral Sue. ❤


  15. Jennie says:

    My goodness, this is wonderful. You paint a picture. I can see you at the Rose Window, understanding that the sun makes it look like a clock. Your memories are crystal clear, and add meaning to the tragic loss. Thank you, Sue.


  16. Probably for most of us on this continent, the first news of our day was that Notre Dame was on fire. I was horrified, even though I’ve never been there. It was a building that I couldn’t imagine not being in the world. All day, the news was on and we watched … and when they said they had to kill the fire within the hour, we held our breaths.

    And somehow, they did it. Of course, you can’t completely reconstruct a building that old or recreate things that probably only medieval masons knew how to do. But they can create enough of it to give the “feeling,” anyway. I hope they photographed every inch of the cathedral so that they will know what every corner, every carving looked like.


    • Sue Vincent says:

      I remember the fire that raged through York Minster, another Gothic masterpiece… and Windsor castle, Hampton Court palace… iconic buildings all of them, and all of them healed and restored, thank goodness.
      The great Rose Window at York shattered into forty thousand tiny pieces… they collected them all, invented new adhesives and sandwiched each fragment between new, clear glass to restore the whiole. We can work wonders hen we work together and set our minds to it. This may be a good and timely reminder of that.


  17. Reblogged this on Serendipity Seeking Intelligent Life on Earth and commented:
    Many people wonder if we, as humans, will survive as long as Notre Dame stood. Maybe we can gain hope as Notre Dame is reborn.

    Liked by 1 person

  18. Adele Marie says:

    I hope you get to light the candle too, Sue. xxx


  19. Reblogged this on Smorgasbord Blog Magazine and commented:
    A wonderful tribute to Notre Dame and to Paris from Sue Vincent who first visited the city as a schoolgirl.. then working there and exploring the entire cathedral… It was and will be again I am sure a magnificent building and part of the iconic Paris skyline. And if reports are accurate, this devastation has brought unity to the French people at a very crucial time. Well worth reading to perhaps give us a greater appreciation of some of our ancient monuments that we consider part of our national identity and survival.

    Liked by 1 person

  20. Thank you for sharing your memories and your feelings about a beautiful place in the world. It was such a tragedy, but as you wrote, all is not lost. ❤


  21. Although I have never seen it in person, I knew it from literature, and it was beautiful in my imagination. Beautiful and very honorable. It was something that had a sort of spiritual strength that held characters in stories together. I was crying, watching it burn and hoping that somehow they could get the fire put out before it did too much damage, but even a little is too much. I heard that people have already donated a considerable amount for its repair and restoration, but I also understand that no matter how well it is done, the past is still lost in that part at least. Thank you for sharing it with us. Hugs and blessings, Anne


    • Sue Vincent says:

      It is sad… but the scars from this chapter in its lost history just add to its story. And the reactions to the fire and subsequent events are an interesting look at human nature too.


  22. Such a beautiful post, Sue, you have had such an interesting life.


  23. Heide says:

    Oh, how I do hope you’ll be able to return soon and light that candle! Thank you for this beautiful and moving post.


  24. macjam47 says:

    What a sad day that was, Sue. I’ve never been to Paris, but, as you know, I love old churches and this was an amazing structure. I’ve read some history on it. I pray it will be rebuilt. Thanks for sharing your feelings and your history with this fabulous cathedral. I hope to read about your visit to light a candle before too many years go by. Love and hugs, my friend. 💕🤗💕


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