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Yes, there were many people. Yes, it is a tourist attraction. Yes, it is a cliché. But what I didn’t know about Notre Dame was that the physical presence of the cathedral pulls you like a magnet. Thanks to the very sensible decision to keep high rise buildings out of old Paris, the vast old churches and palaces draw your eye exactly as they were intended to when built.

The apartment where we stayed was quite close to Notre Dame, so we visited it on our very first day in Paris. I was quite unprepared for how beautiful it was.

On that day, they were rehearsing a piece on the massive pipe organ. The crashing noise was enormous inside the cathedral, overwhelming. But I’m afraid that for a heathen like myself, the message of a great cathedral becomes lost in translation.

While I often feel the presence of sanctity or holiness in a forest or in the sky or along a stretch of windswept coast, to me the principal impression of Notre Dame was not how incredible is God, but how incredible are the achievements of humanity.

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