Matt and Kattien Pavey of Greenwood, Indiana, had only one place they wanted to see on their honeymoon in Paris: Notre Dame Cathedral.
But the newlyweds, who are members of St. Vincent DePaul Catholic Church in Shelbyville, Indiana, never got to visit the medieval landmark called the soul of Paris, a church that holds a special place in the hearts of all Catholics. Instead, they were greeted by flames.
“To see an ancient part of history broken down like that is so sad,” said Kattien.
Kattien said she and Matt began to pray as thoughts of terrorist attacks and the safety of the firefighters and tourists inside the cathedral filled their minds. There has no been indication yet on what started the April 17 fire.
“God kept us safe,” she said.
The couple, who were married just two days before the historic blaze caused extensive damage to the cathedral, planned the entire first day of their honeymoon around seeing it.
“It was overwhelming,” Matt said as the couple relaxed at a Paris café the day after the fire. “It was a deep sadness that came over us. People were crying, even the news reporters.”
Later they witnessed singing and praying, but first everyone seemed to be in a state of shock. As they were driving to the cathedral, they saw the smoke and then they witnessed the iconic 300-foot oak spire fall. That spire had stood atop Notre Dame since the 19th century.
“It was surreal,” Matt said.
The couple was about a half mile from the fire. They had to divert to the Eiffel Tower area to get away from the scene but were able to record video and shoot photos of the cathedral as it burned. Both Matt and Kattien never thought they would be witnessing catastrophic history on their honeymoon.
“I really at first thought [Kattien] was joking,” Matt said about Kattien telling him she was getting alerts on her phone as they got into their car at the Paris airport.
“It was the one place we wanted to see above all others,” Kattien said.
Ever since she was a child, she wanted to visit the Notre Dame Cathedral, a place that is known for its extensive artwork and the important relic it holds — the Crown of Thorns that Christ actually wore. Before their trip, they watched iconic films such as The Hunchback of Notre Dame and others. On Tuesday, they were hoping the Crown of Thorns that was saved along with other artifacts and relics, would still be displayed somewhere else.
The Crown of Thorns is rarely taken out, except for Holy Week and the First Friday of every month when the Knights of the Holy Sepulchre, guardians of the relic, present it to the faithful for veneration. The crown was brought to France by King Louis IX, who received it from the Latin emperor of Constantinople in the 13th century.
Louis IX (who later became St. Louis) carried the holy relic into Notre Dame Cathedral dressed in a simple tunic. That tunic was also saved from the fire. For 500 years, the Crown of Thorns was kept in the Sainte-Chapelle built by the king to house the sacred relic. A priest is being credited for saving the crown of thorns.
“It was an act of heroism [to save the crown of thorns],” she said.
The couple said all the bridges and streets have been closed around the cathedral. Their only view of it came through their car windows when it was in flames.
For now, the couple is regrouping and deciding what other holy sites they may go see in the heart of Paris, known for its deep Catholic history. They do plan to go to the regular tourist stops of the Louvre and other museums.
“I guess we will go hop on a tour bus and see what else there is,” Matt said. “We are here at the café and still enjoying Paris.”