Three weeks ago, Seymour residents Beth and Mark Schultz stood in front of the famed Notre Dame cathedral in Paris, France.
The couple smiled as they captured the moment forever in a picture.
Another photograph shows Beth lighting a candle inside the cathedral for her father, who was going through some health issues at the time.
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“Even if you aren’t Catholic, you just felt the presence of God in that place,” she said. “It was a place of peace and beauty. Pictures just can’t do it justice.”
The Schultzes were in Paris for Mark’s job and also to visit with their daughter, Taylor Bauer, who is living in Paris for three months for her work as a product engineer for Caltherm Corp.
When Beth learned of the massive fire at Notre Dame on Monday that some believed would destroy the cultural and historical icon, she and others around the world shared in their feelings of loss and grief.
“A friend texted me,” she said of how she first heard of the fire.
She said the images she later saw on television of the blaze made her feel a mix of emotions.
“Sad is probably the best word,” she said. “But I also felt blessed that I was able to see it.”
The massive fire burned for 12 hours and destroyed the 856-year-old structure’s spire and roof but spared the twin medieval bell towers in front of which the Schultzes had posed.
The irreplaceable stained glass window known as the rose, the cross at the front of the cathedral and the famous 18th century organ that boasts more than 8,000 pipes also were saved.
Treasured religious artifacts and artwork, including the Crown of Thorns believed to have been worn by Jesus and the tunic of St. Louis, were removed from the cathedral and taken to a safe location.
The fire is believed to be accidental and may have been the result of ongoing renovation work to the cathedral’s roof.
French President Emmanuel Macron said he wants the cathedral rebuilt in five years. Almost $1 billion has been raised so far in donations from people around the world.
“I hope they rebuild it,” Beth said.
Darnell Dukes of Seymour visited Notre Dame cathedral in April 2016. She ended up having to take a tour of the landmark without her husband, who was sick that day.
But she said it didn’t matter, as she was left speechless when she arrived.
“I was in awe of its size and beauty,” she said. “The doors were massive.”
During her tour, a children’s choir was singing, she said.
“The acoustics of the large structure was amazing,” she said.
She decided to walk up the 387 stairs to see the bell towers and rooftop. While she was up there, the bells began to ring, she said.
“They were so loud, but the sound was crisp,” she said. “The views were spectacular. I could see the Seine River, gargoyles on the rooftop corners, sculptures of the 12 Apostles and the gardens below. A weary walk but well worth it.”
Dukes said she found out about the fire on Facebook and was shocked by the news.
“I was extremely sad because I just couldn’t imagine the magnitude of the loss,” she said. “When you see historical buildings in the United States that might be 150-plus years old, you are typically impressed, but when you have seen historical buildings in Europe, it puts a whole new perspective on how such a beautiful building was designed and built that many years ago.”
Melissa Wagner, a French teacher at Seymour High School, has been to Paris and seen Notre Dame four times, she said.
Her last visit was in June 2010 leading a group of students from the school through Europe.
Wagner said she found out from Latin teacher Debbie Schneider at lunch Monday that the cathedral was on fire.
“We looked at live coverage from France 24 Live and other news sources,” she said. “We sat speechless for several minutes. Shock. Disbelief. We teared up. We talked that the last time we visited was the last visit for the cathedral as we had always known it.”
Wagner said the cathedral has always stood as a symbol of peace and comfort.
“This grand church survived two world wars and a revolution,” she said. “When one thinks of Paris or even France, an image of Notre Dame and the Eiffel Tower often come to mind first. We forget that despite centuries of standing for the people, for the city, for Catholics, she is not invincible. I think that is what hurt me the most, her mortality.”