French UT students affected by the fire at Notre-Dame

Lauren Grobe

Victor Sambuis, business sophomore and France native, recalls learning about Notre-Dame in history classes as early as second grade. Last Monday, he watched the historic cathedral catch fire on a screen in Texas.

“I’ve been there, I’ve seen that view myself so I can’t imagine what it was like with the flames and the smoke,” Sambuis said. “The videos of the people watching the fire themselves, there’s just silence through the crowd.”

On April 15, the roof of the cathedral burned down and caused the spire to collapse. According to a French investigative newspaper, Le Canard Enchaîné, the building lacked proper fire safety measures such as a sprinkler system. The cathedral was built in 1163 and took almost 200 years to build, art history professor Joan Holladay said.

“It’s not only a pivotal building, but you assume that these big stone buildings that have been there for 800 years are going to be there for the rest of my lifetime,” Holladay said.


Exchange student Tanguy Chapin attended a university in Paris before coming to study in Austin. Chapin said he saw Notre-Dame everyday in Paris.

“Every French person would tell you, ‘I have some memories with Notre-Dame,’” Chapin said. “It’s like a little part of everyone was burned.”

Biomedical engineering sophomore Julien Pourchet was born in a suburb of Paris and visits often to see family. Pourchet said it was hard to explain the loss of Notre-Dame to peers in Austin.

“It’s almost like as if the Statue of Liberty were to sink,” Pourchet said. “It’s the best comparison I can think of.”

Notre-Dame holds a place in French culture — Pourchet said he grew up on the children’s story “The Hunchback of Notre-Dame.”

“Us French kids grew up on ‘The Hunchback of Notre-Dame,’” Pourchet said. “It’s one of those first stories you hear about, and then you walk in (the cathedral), and it’s more than you ever imagined.”

Notre-Dame has undergone renovations in the past, but there has been debate over whether to restore the spire, as it was not part of the original design, Holladay said. There is also conflict on whether to restore Notre-Dame with authentic materials or build with modern techniques.

“I think if it would prevent the next fire that it wouldn’t be a bad idea to have steel beams replacing the wood,” Holladay said. “Most of us would never know.”