French history in flames, reaction on the UNCW campus after Notre Dame fire

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WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY) — The Notre Dame Cathedral is much more than a tourist spot, it stands as a symbol for a nation and its history.

A Monday fire appears to have torched the building’s core. It has also left a hole in the hearts of thousands of French nationals both there and even here in Wilmington.

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The news of what was happening in Paris caught many on the UNCW campus either in class or eating lunch by way of social media or messages from friends.

”I couldn’t believe what I was seeing,” said Vibeke Olson, a professor in the UNCW Art and Art History Department. She has actually spent time inside the cathedral studying it.

It’s a disbelief shared by those here and around the world. Flames and smoke billowed out of Notre Dame Cathedral for hours. Back here on the UNCW campus, thousands of miles away, the tragedy is all too close to home.



”It is more than just a building there is a story that was built around this building,” said Nastasia Kimmel.

Kimmel would know, she’s a native Parisian now taking part in an exchange program here.
She and Nicolas Rouvier have found it hard not to stay glued to a screen.

“Even if you’re not religious the cathedral is one of the biggest monuments in Paris. It is a big symbol for us,” said Rouvier who calls Marseille home. ”One of the most visited even for us it’s a symbol. It means a lot so I am also worrying about how I will see it again,” said Kimmel who plans to return home in May.

It’s worry and also warranted questions that they now have centered towards how this day of infamy could come.

”A fire should be prevented especially on that kind of monument,” Kimmel said.

The cathedral has stood for more than 800 years.

”It survived the wars of religion, it survived the French Revolution, it became a Temple of Reason for a while. It returned to being a cathedral,” said Olson.

Olson knows it very well, she’s studied the cathedral’s architecture from the inside. She serves as a professor in the Department of Arts and Art History. Her work there in Paris was a part of her dissertation on understand the architecture of a sister cathedral outside of the city.

”It survived World War I, it survived World War II. It’s not surviving this fire,” said Olson as she watched a news live stream of the fire.

The world saw that was the case as the timber spire toppled. As it fell, so did thousands of hearts in and out of France. Olson said she is still trying to make sense how the fire was so out of control and destructive. She said it could be related to where it started saying the spire is one of the only parts of the cathedral not solid rock and mostly timber wood.

In the eyes of Rouvier and Kimmel, they’ve seen the cathedral several times when they were younger. Now they reflect the historic symbolism of it still trying to make sense of the fire.

“It’s really the symbol. Like in French we are really we are really attached to the symbol of the Republic and of our past history too and Notre Dame de Paris is one of the biggest symbols in this part of history of our great monarchy and like all of the Kings that lives in France and what makes what is France right now,” said Rouvier. ”It’s like losing one huge part of the French culture,” Kimmel added.