Grand Haven Tribune: ‘It’s a world treasure’

‘It’s a world treasure’

Matt DeYoung • Apr 17, 2019 at 7:00 AM

Spring Lake High School language arts teachers Mark Webster and Lisa Henry have led hundreds of students on summer trips to Europe — and, each time, one of the highlights is a visit to the famous Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris.

“Every time I’ve been to Paris, I fall in love with it a little more,” Webster, a Spanish teacher, said of the centuries-old cathedral. “There’s just something special about Notre Dame — the feel of it, the history of Notre Dame. It’s one of my favorites.”

The cathedral — immortalized by Victor Hugo’s novel “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” — caught fire Monday night. The famous spire that towered above the Paris skyline burned and collapsed, but firefighters were able to save the two medieval bell towers.

According to The Associated Press, a frantic rescue effort saved the monument's "most precious treasures," including the Crown of Thorns purportedly worn by Jesus.

Also surviving was the Roman Catholic cathedral's famous 18th-century organ that boasts more than 8,000 pipes, after a plan to safeguard the masterpieces and relics was quickly put into action after the fire broke out. Statues removed from the roof for restoration just days ago also were saved.

Webster learned of the fire after wrapping up his teaching day Monday.

“I finished up here and was really glued to the TV,” he said. “I’m fascinated by the architecture and the art. To me, it’s just a real tragedy.”

Webster explained that the cathedral — which saw construction begin in 1163 and wrap up in 1345 — featured a skeleton built of hand-hewn oak beams. Generations of stone masons then built the stone and brick up around that oak frame.

“If all that skeleton fails, the entire thing comes down,” he said.

Henry, who teaches French at SLHS, received several emails and dozens of Facebook messages telling her of the fire.

“I was aghast,” she said. “I could not believe it. … It was the heart of Paris.”

“It’s even impacted people who have never been there,” Webster said. “People around the world have fallen in love with this building through movies, books, history. It’s a world treasure. It survived World War I and World War II, but it didn’t survive this.”

Henry said it will be interesting to see what the French decide to do with it.

“Back before Victor Hugo wrote ‘The Hunchback of Notre Dame,’ it was falling apart,” she said. “It was used as a barn, a homeless shelter. It wasn’t until Victor Hugo began writing about it that people began to donate to save it.”

The two teachers will lead a group of Spring Lake students to Spain and France in the summer of 2020.

“We’ll see where it stands in a year,” Henry said. “I can’t imagine them going quickly.”

Henry studied and lived in France for six months, setting her up for a life of sharing her passion for the country with her students.

“That was my very first time exploring another nation,” she said. “My parents didn’t travel. Showing kids things from around the world is a good thing. Have them study abroad, go somewhere else, travel, try something different. Most of our kids who have studied in a foreign language class, they get that bug at some point.

“It’s a privilege to work in a district and to have parents who support their kids going abroad, willing to write that check to invest in their child’s education,” she continued. “This is something they will never forget. We took 32 kids in 2014 and, every year, it’s growing.”

Webster’s passion for exploring other parts of the world was born of his aunt and uncle, who sent him stamps and coins from their travels to foreign lands.

“That really fueled my passion,” he said. “It’s expensive. It’s an investment, but the returns are endless. When people travel, it changes you. I think (Anthony) Bourdain said that. In my family, we’ve been more about experiences than things, and my girls are like that — doing whatever it takes to save a little bit and travel.”

French President Emmanuel Macron said Tuesday that he wants to see the fire-ravaged cathedral rebuilt within five years, according to the AP. In a televised address to the nation, Macron said that "we will rebuild Notre Dame Cathedral even more beautiful."

Authorities consider the fire an accident, possibly as a result of restoration work at the global architectural treasure that survived almost 900 years of tumultuous French history but was devastated in the blaze on the second day of Holy Week.

— The Associated Press contributed to this report.


We asked our Facebook followers to share their photos from visits to Notre Dame. Here are some of their responses:

Jessie Crawford SLHS trip 2017. My second time visiting
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Kelly May-Werner I have so many, but this is one of my favorites.
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Ginni Lampe We were there in 2010, and attended a Holy Week service. The Rose window is gorgeous!
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J.B. Meeuwenberg Just last month😥
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Nichol Stack Visited last year
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Judy Hooyenga Visit in April 2017
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Joe Sinn Choking back tears today.

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Judy Hooyenga April 2017
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Patricia Muylaert I was just there in February! So heart breaking!
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Jessie Crawford SLHS trip 2017. 
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