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'A work of art': Blaze revives memories of visit to Notre Dame Cathedral

Staff writer

Jeff Hanschu’s memories of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris are like the vivid photographs he has pulled from storage.

One snapshot of religious statues brings up recollections of a roof he explored 20 years ago as student of Tabor College. Another conjures memories of its elaborate gargoyles — yet another, the beauty of its South Rose window.

Harder to picture, he said, are his wordless feelings of wonder at visiting “a massive work of art” — and of his sadness at the news of a blaze that devastated much of the 850-year-old French Gothic masterpiece.

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“I am not very religious, if at all,” he said Monday evening, “but this building has stood the test of time –- through wars. It might be a total loss or it might not be.”

But it’s gone.

All of that artwork, all that vision that all of those people had, and now it’s up in flames. It’s hard to think about.”

Monday’s fire at Notre Dame destroyed its spire and left holes in its roof. The cause of the catastrophe was still being investigated at press time.

Hanschu, a McPherson resident who grew up in Lost Springs, says he and 14 other students earned college credit through a 3-week tour of Europe in January of 2000 that took them through London, Luxembourg, Brussels, Amsterdam, and Paris.

The trip was “not overly expensive, but not cheap,” and was paid partly by his parents.

Fears of the havoc the Y2K bug might wreak on computer systems kept the tour near urban areas so the group wouldn’t end up stranded overseas.

A stopover at Paris gave them a day to spend at Notre Dame. Hanschu said he was immediately taken aback by its “awe-inspiring grandeur.”

“To know that you are standing where people have stood for 800 years is very humbling,” he said.

The students were allowed to explore the now-collapsed roof and enjoyed a breathtaking view of Paris through a safety fence.

“You could see all of the gargoyles and statues of the religious saints they had up there,” he said.

Hanschu says his visit left him with an appreciation of Europe’s history and a lot of treasured photographs.

“I am glad to have what I have, so I can reminisce about it and say that I was there,” he said of his shots of Notre Dame. “I have been showing my kids that I was there.”

He knows the cathedral itself will never be the same, but says it still stands as a monument to the spirit of the people who built and restored it over the centuries.

“It’s more than just a church, it’s a testament to what people can do when they have a vision,” he said.

Last modified April 18, 2019

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