Back in the olden days, I couldn't distinguish. At a very early age, I assumed that there was a big church where the Fighting Irish played football, and occasionally there was a bell rung there by a hunchback. In my mind, it helped explain that whole "Touchdown Jesus" thing.
It was thanks to another Colorado boy, Lon Chaney, that I began to pick up on the difference. The university in South Bend, Indiana was a separate entity from that of the cathedral in France. Quasimodo was the name of the hunchback who clambered around the spires and steeples above the streets of Paris. Ara Parseghian was the coach who helped lift the American-based Notre Dame out of lethargy. It was a bit of a tossup to me as to who had the more amusing name. There is, of course, a common thread between the two: the Catholic Church. It should be noted here that "Touchdown Jesus" is a painting on the side of a library, not a vision appearing whenever the Fighting Irish score. Touchdown Jesus just turned fifty-five years old. Construction on the French cathedral began in 1160 and was essentially completed one hundred years later.
Which may explain why the fire that destroyed large sections of Notre Dame (Paris), is such a big deal. It drew concern from all corners of the globe as firefighters battled to save the distinctive towers but government spokespeople described the scene as one of "colossal damage." Or dommages colossaux in its native tongue.
I became more familiar with the cathedral as I watched more film versions of the tale of Quasimodo and his unrequited love for the gypsy girl, Esmeralda. My older brother even shot one in our front yard when we were kids, without the bell tower. My younger brother bought his first monster mask shortly after I did at the Disneyland magic store. He picked Quasi for his entree into over the head rubber monster masks. Disney made a movie musical out of the story twenty-three years ago. And when I was in college, it was one of the architectural wonders that I studied in art history.
But I have never been there.
Nor have I been to South Bend, Indiana.
Which may explain my confusion.