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Oliver Trigony, a history major from Jackson, Tennessee, has spent his junior year studying business and international affairs with IES Abroad in Paris and was a witness to last week’s tragic fire at Notre Dame Cathedral.

Oliver Trigony in front of the Eiffel Tower
Oliver Trigony in front of the Eiffel Tower

He was heading home after spending the day at the Pompidou Center, where he was meeting with a professor at the Museum of Modern Art.

“I was looking forward to having dinner with my host family after a long day of studying. I was on my way to my Métro stop and on the way saw a lot of smoke near Notre Dame,” he said.

As he walked toward the scene, he realized the historic church was on fire.

“I was at first in denial. I was hoping that it was a building near Notre Dame and not the church. But as I got closer, I saw the fire spread to the spire,” he said. “I could not believe what I was seeing. I was frozen with fear. I knew that Notre Dame was one of the oldest buildings in Paris. Nine hundred years of history was in that building.”

Notre Dame Cathedral on fire Monday, April 15, 2019. Photo taken by Oliver Trigony
Notre Dame Cathedral on fire Monday, April 15, 2019. Photo taken by Oliver Trigony.

Like everyone else, he feared that the cathedral and the artifacts it housed would be completely lost. He joined the throng of distraught onlookers and Ovbegan snapping photos. He watched traffic snarl as drivers slowed down and ignored stoplights as they tried to see what was happening.

“Eventually, I had to leave because the police were clearing the roads near to building so that the fire trucks could come as close as possible,” he said.

Luckily, the Métro transit system was still working and he was able to get home.

“I made it back to my host family and we discussed at great length the current situation. They were quite sad; the event moved them greatly.

“As I talked to my host family they told me that they thought that this event is a testament to the tenacity of the city of Paris. They told me that the motto of Paris is Fluctuat nec mergitur, a Latin phrase that means ‘She is rocked by the waves but does not sink.’”

They told him the motto harkens to the many crises the city has weathered but survived, becoming stronger each time.

“Notre Dame has been damaged. It will be rebuilt and it will be stronger than before. Notre Dame will return and will remain in Paris for generations to come,” he said.

Although many students study abroad for only a semester or less, Trigony opted to spend his entire junior year in Paris.

“I felt that the semester simply would not do a country justice. I wanted to see as much as I could while I was in Europe. My goal was, and still is, to see the world, to meet new people, and to live my life to the fullest.”

Studying in Paris has been “the coolest thing in the world,” he said. “I am visiting monuments that I have only seen on the internet and seen paintings that I have only seen in books.”

To learn more about studying abroad, visit the Programs Abroad website.

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Amy Blakely (865-974-5034,