Hundreds of Waco residents may have watched footage of the Notre Dame Cathedral fire Monday with personal memories of visits there.
For some Baylor University professors, those personal memories were entwined with those of classes that they took to the cathedral to soak in its stained glass color, its centuries of history and its soaring organ.
“We used to start our Baylor in Paris class with a walk through the historic center of Paris and one of the moments we had was the stop at Notre Dame,” said Baylor University associate professor of French Cristian Bratu, who has led the month-long summer course with Marie Level, senior lecturer in French. “So many important things happened there: the coronation of Napoleon I in 1804. Victor Hugo set his novel ‘The Hunchback of Notre Dame’ at the cathedral. King Henri IV married his wife there in 1572.”
The cathedral also housed the religious relic of the crown of thorns that some believe Jesus Christ wore before his crucifixion and its school birthed the University of Paris, one of Europe’s first universities, he continued.
Construction began in 1163 and was completed some time in the 1340s, a visual testament not only to the glory of God, but the power of the Bishop of Paris and the French royal house. “These Gothic cathedrals were designed to make you look up and be awed by God’s glory,” Bratu said.
More than six centuries later, the Cathedral of Notre Dame still had that impact on Baylor students viewing it in person. “They’re wowed by the size of the cathedral — they’re used to their little churches here — and they’re wowed by the stained glass in the cathedral. It’s an amazing visual expression,” said the French professor.
Even though the cathedral tour took an hour or less of the Baylor In Paris students’ month-long stay in the French capital, the sight of its towering spires were always at hand, Bratu noted.
The impact was an aural one for the eight Baylor organ students that Isabelle Demers, chairman of the organ department, took to Notre Dame two years ago. Demers’ acquaintance with the cathedral’s organist, whom she met during a year’s study in France, led to an after-hours session with her class at the keyboard of one of the cathedral’s two organs.
The late-night session in the organ loft located above the cathedral floor started at 11 p.m. and students were allowed to play works written specifically for that organ.
Playing the historic organ, some of whose pipes were nearly 300 years old, was a special experience, but so was hearing the organ in the vast space of the cathedral, with its reverberation time of some eight seconds, Demers said. Baylor’s organist emeritus Joyce Jones also has performed on the Notre Dame organ.
The cathedral’s main organ and choir organ provided daily music at the historic church with much of it on Sundays, when church priests would celebrate seven Masses scheduled for the day.
Even if their keyboards and pipes haven’t been damaged by the fire, the organs’ building has and their fate is inextricably linked to the structure that houses it.
“An organ is always a marriage of an instrument and its building, “ Demers said. “What is an organ without its building?”
Bratu said he’ll be adjusting this summer’s Baylor In Paris schedule for its 27 students in light of the cathedral fire and the likely clean-up work that will follow. He recently had contributed to a renovation fund established by the Society of the Friends of Notre Dame and encouraged those saddened by the fire’s damage to contribute to its likely rebuilding.