Workers were making repairs to the roof of Notre Dame on a fine April day. A fire broke out, too high to be quickly doused with water, and onlookers could only stare in disbelief as the building was consumed by flames.
That scene played out 140 years ago, at the University of Notre Dame, the Indiana school famous for its Fighting Irish football team. By the time the fire was out, the campus’ main building was ruined.
And then Monday, across the Atlantic at the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, an intense fire felled the spire and tore apart the roof of a building known for its stone gargoyles, flying buttresses and the legend of the hunchbacked Quasimodo.
“Notre Dame is burning! Notre Dame is burning!” students said as Krupali Uplekar Krusche, an architecture and historic preservation professor at the University of Notre Dame, arrived in her studio Monday afternoon. “I was like, ‘What? What happened? Where?’” she recalled a day later. “I was under the impression that it happened at the university.”
So were many others.
As people around the world watched images of the fire in horror, the University of Notre Dame received about 5,000 tweets, reposts or questions about whether the fire was at the school, or whether there was a connection between the university and the cathedral, Dennis Brown, a spokesman for the university, said Tuesday.
Anxious to douse any misapprehension, the university took to Twitter: “A clarification: A fire is currently burning at @notredameparis, not the University of Notre Dame.”
“So yeah, there was a little bit of confusion,” Brown said. “That’s why we issued a tweet yesterday afternoon, to clarify that we were safe, but that our prayers were with those who had been impacted in Paris.”
Krusche said the cathedral had strong sentimental value for her students, because they had stood inside it and studied it as part of an annual field trip to Paris just a year ago. A new crop of students is scheduled to visit Paris in a week. “Unfortunately, it will not be the same trip,” she said.
In a statement of solidarity with the people of France, the university’s president, the Rev. John I. Jenkins, noted that the Notre Dame campus, near South Bend, Indiana, had been destroyed by fire on April 23, 1879. In that episode, workers had also been on the roof of the college, making repairs. But they left before the fire was noticed and buckets of water could not be carried up six stories to the roof fast enough to contain the fire. (Investigators in Paris were also looking at the possibility that restoration work had accidentally sparked the cathedral fire.)
Jenkins said the university would donate $100,000 toward the cathedral’s restoration, and would toll the bells of its basilica 50 times Tuesday evening, like a number of other churches around the world, to honor the cathedral.
In fact, the university is not affiliated with the church in Paris, formally known as Notre Dame de Paris. The school’s full name is the University of Notre Dame du Lac, the University of Our Lady of the Lake. It was given that name by its founder, Father Edward Sorin, a French priest, because it is near two lakes.
Also, the two names are also pronounced differently: It’s “Noter Daym” in Indiana, and more like “Notruh Dahm” in France.
Perhaps adding to the confusion , the mayor of South Bend, Pete Buttigieg, offered his condolences to a French-language news channel Monday, in French.
“To the people of France, I would like to say that Notre Dame Cathedral was like a gift to the human race,” said Buttigieg, who is running for the Democratic nomination for president. “We share in the pain but we also thank you for this gift to civilization.”