UNA Professors say Notre Dame Cathedral ‘greatest set piece’ in Paris drama, still plan to take students

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FLORENCE, Ala. - The Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris is one of the world's most photographed sites and it was nearly destroyed by fire on Monday.

Photography professor Robert Rausch and French professor Stephanie Coker at the University of North Alabama are planning to lead yet another group of University of North Alabama students to France in June.

This year's trip will be a little different. Much of the landmark was reduced to ashes but it is still standing. They say they're still going, and will be staying just blocks from where the cathedral still stands.

Coker said, "That's one of the first places we take students when we arrive in the city of Paris, is we go to Notre Dame."

She said as a lover of France and the French language, this fire is especially heartbreaking for her.

"It's kind of hard to absorb, because for me Notre Dame is a symbol of not only Paris, but France as a whole." She added, "Especially at this time with it being Holy Week and leading up to Good Friday and Easter, the timing of it all too is quite overwhelming."

Rausch said, "I'm excited for them. Paris is still a wonderful city." He added that taking photography students to the site is a great experience. "It's great for me because I've been there so much, I get to see it new fresh through their eyes every time." But he added, "I'm devastated that some of Notre Dame is going to be gone, but I'm more sad in my heart for the French to have lost that. And for myself as well. There's a beautiful piece of history and architecture as well that is going to be changed."

History professor Jeffrey Bibbee, on sabbatical in London, recorded a lecture in Paris just weeks ago.

"Paris has been so often rebuilt, but there's something magical in the way that every time it is reinvented, they retain so much of history," he said.

And the history of Notre Dame is extensive.

"Notre Dame is what you think of when you think of the skyline of Paris," he said. "For me, what always strikes a chord on Notre Dame is Victor Hugo and the Hunchback of Notre Dame. How it factors in literature and in the greater story of France. And it is the burial place of French kings, some were crowned there."

He said, "It has a lengthy history from its medieval origins through the modern day, but really it's a backdrop. It's always been maybe the greatest set piece in the drama that is Paris." He added, "I think the tragedy is, Notre Dame is one of those pieces that has survived all of those various reinventions."

That notion, Bibbee said, sparks hope of another reinvention at the cathedral, long after this blaze burns out.

"It will be rebuilt. It's one of the most photographed and loved places in the world. There's absolutely no doubt the French will be able to rebuild this. And it won't just be the French that rebuild this cathedral," he said.

These UNA professors tell us it will be fascinating to see the recovery effort, which will likely an international undertaking, and reinvention of the cathedral in the years to come.