My Vist to Notre Dame Cathedral Changed Everything
Last week in Paris, at the Notre Dame Cathedral, I experienced the strangest thing that made me question whether or not I believe in spirits or an afterlife. For the two weeks prior, I had visited loads of museums, castles, palaces and churches in Paris, London and Dublin all renowned for their beauty and magnificence. Although I was pretty impressed with a lot of these sites, and I even stopped to admire some of them, I would move on pretty quickly. My co-worker aptly described this “I’m not that impressed” effect due to the sheer number of visitor attractions my job requires me to visit. It’s almost as if everything loses its luster because I am desensitized to their awe-inducing effects because I’ve just seen so many cool things and places.
I’m not a religious person. The last time I sat through a church service was my friend’s wedding several years ago. As a child, I attended Sunday school in a Lutheran church and later decided to attend Catholic church because that’s where all my friends were going (come on, I was a middle schooler who just wanted to hang with her friends). Back then, I believed in God, but never really thought much about it. At some point in my early 20s, I actually started to think more about it and settled somewhere in the category of I’m not sure if there is a higher being but certainly I don’t believe in some bearded white dude in the sky who controls my fate.
That is until I visited the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. When I first walked up to the building, I thought it was pretty cool. The gothic style architecture was certainly pretty and it stood out against the Paris skyline, but my first thought was that it was just another pretty church – I’d already seen a bunch of them in Dublin and London.
I saw the giant line formed out front and my first instinct was to skip it. I don’t need to see the inside of yet another church, I’ll just skip it. But the line seemed to be moving quickly, so I took my place at the end.
The moment I walked into the church and looked up at the 125-foot ceiling, grand archways and rainbow colored stained glass windows my eyes filled with tears and I lost my breath. It was literally the most beautiful thing I had ever seen in my life and suddenly my uncle Rocco was where with me. The strangest part is, I’ve never even met my uncle because he died fighting in World War II when my dad was 2 years old.I seriously can’t explain it, but he was in my head and in my heart at that moment and then I thought of my grandmother, my dad’s mom, who died when I was 5. I hardly remember her, but I do know that she was a devoted Catholic. I immediately felt this level of gratitude that I’ve never felt and wished they could be there to see it with me because I know how much they would have loved it.
As I walked around the church, I couldn’t hold my tears as memories of my family and our history flooded in. There was a journal for people to write notes, and I felt compelled to write something to my uncle. I wrote him a special note to tell him how much we love him and appreciate his sacrifice.Later that night I was talking to my friend about what I had experienced in the church, so unexpected. She said that when she has experienced those types of moments, she sincerely believes that the person in her memory is there with her, that his or her spirit is present in that moment.
I had never thought about it before because, in all honesty, I’ve never experienced anything like this, where I have this visceral reaction without any explanation. Yes, the church was beautiful, breathtaking even, but I’ve seen a lot of really beautiful things in my life. And upon seeing such a beautiful thing, why would my brain go to my uncle, who I never met and have only seen a couple pictures? Why not to my parents, sister, husband or my own children?I’m still not sure if I believe in spirits or an afterlife, but it is hard for me to deny this experience. Whether or not he was there, I can’t be sure, but I do know that they would have loved in there and the Notre Dame Cathedral will always be the first place I visit when I go to Paris.