At dawn on Tuesday, as the first blush of sunrise illuminated Notre-Dame de Paris, residents gathered on the left bank of the river Seine to see the damage wrought by a devastating fire that had engulfed the historic cathedral overnight.
“For me, it’s much more than stones, it’s a part of myself that is burning,” said Sarah Virot, 32, who works for a Christian association in the capital.
Notre Dame sits at the French capital’s geographical and psychological heart, on a small island called the Île de la Cité, embraced on both sides by the Seine.
It’s not just the center of the city, but of the country; from it, all other distances to the capital are measured. And so, for Parisians, the cathedral is not just a religious structure, but a shared legacy.
“I came because I wanted to see something that was hard to imagine,” Sarah Parent du Châtelet, 33, told CNN. “I was born in Paris and I know this lady just like an immortal person. It’s impossible to imagine Paris without her.”
If the Eiffel Tower came to signify the city’s sparkling future, Notre Dame has, for generations, embodied its past. “She is the heart of Paris, eternal and spiritual,” Parent du Châtelet added.