Notre Dame de Paris – Sacred and Secular

Notre Dame

~ Lauren Janes, PhD
Associate Professor of History

Dr. Heidi Kraus and I have now had the privilege of leading our May Term, “Art, History, and Global Citizenship in Paris,” four times. It is a true joy to share with our Hope College students the beauty, art, culture, and social complexity of the city we know and love. Looking back on 2019, I think we will always remember it as the year that the world nearly lost Notre Dame de Paris. Visiting the cathedral and participating in mass there, surrounded by people from all over the world, had been a highlight of our first three May Term courses. This year we could only look upon Notre Dame from a distance, grieving the loss of the roof and spire and hoping that the medieval masonry will continue to stand strong.

One of the central themes of our course is to think about how history is represented in public spaces in Paris. What stories do the French state and the city of Paris tell about French and Parisian identity through the preservation and presentation of historic sites? How do we best experience and analyze those stories? Seeing Notre Dame damaged but still standing, and listening to debates and conversations about how, when, and by whom the cathedral will be restored, gave us many new insights into the complex meaning of historic sites for Parisians and visitors alike.

May 2019 group

It will be quite a few years before we worship inside Notre Dame de Paris again, but while we wait, we will continue to learn from the process of the cathedral’s reconstruction and presentation to Paris and the world. Notre Dame de Paris is both sacred and secular–the Catholic Church’s cathedral and a building owned by the secular French state. What will the “new” Notre Dame have to say about France, Paris, and the Catholic Church? We will continue to see how history, sacrality, and identity are preserved, constructed, and reconstructed in public space.

Now, at the end of October, we are preparing for our fifth Paris May Term in 2020. We are planning even more ways to help students engage with our program’s home neighborhood in the 13th arrondissement, and we are planning a new outing to Monet’s house and gardens at Giverny. There are no prerequisite requirements for the course, and all Hope College students are encouraged to apply.  Come join us!  Applications are due November 5 and can be found at




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