“Notre-Dame de Paris is burning."
When I read these words on the news, I was in Germany for a research trip. Without conscious thought, I immediately looked up to see how far away I was from Paris. Five and half hours. The urge to jump in my rental car and make the drive was strong. I had no plan or any idea of what I would do when I got there, but the need to see for myself the truth about the damage was overwhelming. Realizing the futility of the trip, I instead turned on the news and watched flames devour the cathedral.
Medievalists all over the world took to social media to express their visceral grief at the sight of the building in flames. Almost anyone in the field, even those who don’t study French culture, is aware of the history located in Notre Dame, in its artifacts and relics, in its stained glass, in its very walls. In a way, spaces such as Notre Dame become the cultural heritage of all of us who study them. It is this heritage — and all too often the shock of losing or almost losing it — that makes us aware of our connection to a premodern past that is already at times difficult to access.
The awareness of Notre Dame’s significance is not, of course, the sole province of academics. It is shared with the approximately 12 million people who visit the cathedral every year, all of whom have memories of the monument, captured in photos with friends and family.