St. John Valley residents reminisce about historic Notre Dame Cathedral as landmark burns in Paris

FORT KENT, Maine — Although an ocean apart, the distance between the St. John Valley and Paris, France, is not so far given the French ancestry that many residents from here share.

However, local folks of all backgrounds, and Americans throughout the country were saddened to learn that fire struck the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris on Monday, destroying much of the historic structure.

The Washington Post reported Monday afternoon that “the central spire, roof and much of the interior of Notre Dame Cathedral were obliterated,” by the fire, which may have been started by a construction accident.

Julia Bayly of Fort Kent captured the ornate details of the Notre Dame Cathedral when she visited Paris in 2016.
(Julia Bayly)

Several St. John Valley residents on Monday shared their enduring memories of visiting the cathedral.

County Administrator Ryan D. Pelletier visited in 2017 with his longtime girlfriend Jennifer Dufour as the couple accompanied Dufour’s daughter Gabby on a Madawaska School District field trip to Europe.

“We were only in Paris for a day and a half and the cathedral was one of the stops. I feel horrible about the fire. My first thought is of such a huge piece of history and the fact that future kids and travelers will not be able to visit it,” Pelletier said. “It would be like the Statue of Liberty collapsing or the Washington Monument toppling over. Such a terrible time and my thoughts and prayers are with the people of Paris.”

Although he visited decades ago, the building also made a lasting impression on Scott Voisine, now dean of community education at the University of Maine at Fort Kent.

“I was there in 1999. It was a ‘must see’ when visiting Paris. I remember just how overwhelmingly beautiful and historic it was. The stained glass windows alone were just unbelievable. This is a great loss of historic art, antiquity, and architecture,” Voisine said.

The Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris as photographed by Julia Bayly of Fort Kent in 2016. The historic Cathedral suffered serious fire damage on April 15, 2019.
(Julia Bayly)

Fort Kent resident and Bangor Daily News reporter Julia Bayly first visited Notre Dame in 2016 during her first trip to Paris. She too was moved by the cathedral’s magnificent architecture and historical significance.

“I have long been fascinated by cathedral architecture and the history of European cathedral buildings,” Bayly said on Monday afternoon. She said she was devastated by images of the fire that she saw on social media and online news sites.

“My heart broke at the news and at those images. I wonder, how do you fight a fire like that? How do you rebuild. And, of course, I hope no one is harmed,” she said. “Finally, I look at the photos of the roof and through windows in the topmost section you can see orange flames…..Will the stories and whispers of those who constructed this cathedral be silenced by the flames?”

Bishop Robert Deeley of the Diocese of Portland also expressed sorrow at the loss.

“France has lost a cultural icon that has stood for over eight centuries, and the world has lost a beloved symbol of Christianity,” he wrote in a press release issued Monday afternoon. “The Cathedral of Notre-Dame served as a beautiful center of faith for countless generations of Catholics and as a source of inspiration and architectural brilliance for the millions of tourists who were blessed to visit it. It is difficult to process this tragic loss.

“At the request of Archbishop Michel Aupetit, archbishop of Paris, I invite Maine churches to ring their bells as an invitation to prayer. The Diocese of Portland joins the faithful around the world in praying for the people of Paris …”

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