News came yesterday of the terrible fire at the Cathedrale de Notre Dame de Paris and I immediately thought back to my visit to the city in November of 2011. I had arrived from Firenze, via an overnight train, to meet a jazz musician friend there on tour. I was nearing the end of a three month trip, with my next and final stop being London, and I just remember being tired (mostly, I was pouting because I had to leave Italy). I had traveled thousands of miles with just a back pack, and I was ready to go home, but there was no way I was going to leave without seeing Paris.
The weather was cool and crisp, but leaves weren’t quite ready to fall from the trees yet – they were still bursting with oranges and vibrant reds. It was cloudy when I stepped off the train – the most terrible, dirtiest train in all of my travels through Europe, but my friend was staying at a nice hotel (contrary to hostels I had been staying at throughout). I was so excited to take a hot shower, in a real bathroom, and have a fluffy omelette, with a cafe creme for breakfast. I set out that afternoon to tour both the Notre-Dame and the Louvre (ambitious, yes, but I was only there for four days and needed to make it count!). By this time, the clouds had cleared and the sun shown brightly over the city.
To my surprise, there was no admittance fee for the cathedrale and the line for entry was quite short. Obviously, this centuries old building is magnificent in its own right, the rose windows mesmerizing and the relics all had stories of their own, but what stood out for me was the statue of Saint Joan of Arc, with the inscription: “Born in Lorraine, burned alive in Rouen as a heretic and a witch. The decision to rehabilitate her reputation was made in this Cathedral.” And so it was in 1909, that the fierce warrior was beatified in the church by Pope Plus X, and later canonized in 1920.
Centuries had gone by, but the church finally made things right. The church itself has also suffered great destruction and continuous restoration over the years. Progress is slow, but seeing her statue there restored my faith in the idea of forgiveness – of knowing that even though the world spirals out of control sometimes, there are still good people to bring it back. Even as she burned at the stake, Joan of Arc never lost faith, she never lost sight of what she believed. Without a doubt, the good people of France will, once again, rebuild. And we too, will keep planting the seeds of change.