Chicagoan Christine Eischen and her mother were taking photos in a small garden behind the Notre Dame Cathedral about 30 minutes before the catastrophic fire in the church Monday.
It was a beautiful, 60-degree day — the second day of Holy Week — and she and many others wanted to take pictures of the Parisian and Catholic landmark. Though she saw a lot of police activity, Eischen, director of college counseling for the Lycee Francais de Chicago, said it wasn’t until she got into an Uber that she found out there was a fire raging in the church.
“If I didn’t take that Uber, I wouldn’t have known it was going on,” said Eischen, who is with four Lycee students who are visiting the American University of Paris.
“It’s such a landmark in Paris and, especially with it being Holy Week, my heart goes out to the city — we’ve been welcomed this whole week and it’s just awful,” Eischen said.
A massive fire engulfed the roof of Notre Dame Cathedral in the heart of the French capital Monday, toppling its spire and sending thick plumes of smoke high into the blue sky as tourists and Parisians looked on aghast from the streets below.
The 12th century cathedral is home to incalculable works of art and is one of the world’s most famous tourist attractions.
The Paris fire chief says the structure of Notre Dame cathedral was saved; the fire was stopped from spreading to the northern belfry.
The cause of the blaze was not known. The church’s spire has been undergoing a $6.8 million renovation project. Paris police said there were no reported deaths.
In a statement, Chicago Cardinal Blase Cupich prayed for the people of Paris, parishioners and first responders as “we watch this terrible tragedy unfold.”
“Notre Dame for centuries has been a symbol of the faith and fortitude of the people of France,” the statement read. “In this moment of sorrow, we stand arm in arm with the French people, whose church helped to establish our own diocese, knowing that just as our city once rose from ashes, Paris’ great cathedral will again reach for the heavens.”
Eischen said there’s been “a lot of emotion going on, and lots of calls from back home.”
“It’s our last night in Paris, and we’re sitting at dinner and our phones kept going off,” Eischen said. “We’re all looking at pictures. . . . We were in a packed restaurant and there was this eerie feeling, like everyone is eating dinner while this tragedy is happening and to have just been standing there is crazy.”
Contributing: Associated Press