Northeastern University students describe the scene as they watched Notre Dame burn in Paris

Firefighters work near the rose window of Notre Dame cathedral on Tuesday following the devastating fire Monday night in Paris. Experts are assessing the blackened shell of Paris’ iconic cathedral to determine what artifacts can be saved and what has been lost in the blaze. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus)

“A heartwarming monument.” “A memorial for 900 years of history.” “A symbol of resilience.”

Three Northeastern students who watched the Notre Dame cathedral burn on Monday in Paris as firefighters tried to contain the blaze used these phrases to describe their experiences, recollections, and feelings about the historic landmark, which has drawn more than 13 million visitors per year.

The fire destroyed the roof of the cathedral, and toppled its spire. But its iconic architectural features likely saved it from total devastation after the fire, according to architecture and engineering professors at Northeastern.

As smoke billowed through the evening sky in Paris on Monday, Catherine Hogan joined thousands of Parisians who took to the streets to watch the fire die down and mourn the loss of a cultural icon by singing a rendition of Schubert’s “Ave Maria.”

“We all sang together as one community of people,” Hogan, a third-year student studying abroad in Paris, said Tuesday.

Just last week, she said, she was sitting under a cherry blossom tree in the garden near the cathedral and enjoying the spring weather. Now she was contemplating the meaning of the 850-year-old church.

“With all that France has been through, the Notre Dame still stands tall as a symbol of resilience and the power to persevere, not just among the French but also throughout the world,” she said.

As Jacob Potts watched the fire spread across the rooftop of the cathedral, he contemplated the history contained within the walls of the Parisian landmark. He said the Notre Dame cathedral was where Heraclius of Caesarea announced the Third Crusade, where Napoleon was crowned emperor, and where victims of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks were honored with the tolling of the landmark’s bells.

“Losing a part of Notre Dame is like seeing those memories and historical richness slip away a bit, and thats painful,” said Potts, a third-year student studying abroad in Paris.

Delfina McNaught-Davis said that she first visited the cathedral when she was 5 years old, and was blown away by its immense beauty. Now, 16 years later, she said the cathedral still has the same effect on her.

“It has been a heart-warming monument for France and the rest of the world,” said McNaught-Davis, a third-year student studying abroad in Paris. “Not only does it symbolize a rare and beautiful Gothic architecture, but also the community which a religion can bring forth.”

McNaught-Davis said a distinct gloom is hanging over the city in the wake of the fire. But she, Hogan, and Potts said that they believe the cathedral will be rebuilt to be stronger and more beautiful than ever.

“The Notre Dame is not just a building or a church, it is a message of survival and authenticity,” said Hogan. “It will be rebuilt, and it will be beautiful again, and this horrific event will be yet another part of its amazing history that we will look back upon in many years.”

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