Cover image by Scot Facer Proctor.

“Now, I am more tender toward Heavenly Father’s children because I was given a glimpse of myself and who I am to Him.”   Heather Ridge Wilson

During General Conference on October 1, 2011, Thomas S. Monson announced a temple to be built in Paris, France. After several years of searching for the right site and attaining civil permits, construction of the temple started in Le Chesney, a suburb of Paris near Versailles, in mid-2014.

Beginning in 2015, Paris, France, was the target of coordinated Islamic terrorist attacks in and around the city. Over the next two years, 130 people died and 600 wounded. Many of the victims were police officers and soldiers. (1)

On May 21, 2017, President Henry B. Eyring dedicated the Paris Temple saying, “We rejoice with the Saints of France and surrounding countries that today a holy house of God is dedicated in your midst—adding an eternal dimension to the beauty of this great and historic part of the Lord’s kingdom.” (2)

During the first half of 2017, six individual terrorist strikes occurred at the Louvre, Orly Airport, Vaucouleurs, twice at the Champs-Élysées, and the Notre Dame Cathedral. Five people died. (3)

By July, Paris simmered in heat and humidity. France had finished its first round of presidential elections and celebrated Bastille Day. The earlier terrorist incidents hadn’t dampened the tourist season, but navigating the city became more difficult because of the stringent security measures at bus, subway, and train stops.

Five thousand miles away, David and Heather Wilson prepared for a combination business and pleasure trip to Belgium, in the first week of August. They planned to fly into Charles de Gaulle Airport on Friday and take the train into Paris, where they would visit some of their favorite spots. Then, they’d travel north to their hotel in the French city of Lille, on the border of Belgium. Monday, David would go into Belgium for his business, and on Tuesday, Heather planned to take the two-hour trip back to Paris to attend the Temple.

 “I heard the Paris Temple had just been dedicated, and I was excited to go. Whenever we travel, we love to go to different temples. I’ve been to temples in the U.S., in Canada, and Europe. It’s a passion for me and that’s all I could think of. My whole focus was to get to that temple.”

Heather learned the Paris Temple did not rent the sacred clothing required for temple attendance and considered how she could pack her own temple attire to keep it safe. She folded them with care, wrapped in a white pillowcase, and tucked them in her suitcase. “I really thought that would be a decent security, and that they wouldn’t be rummaged through.”

She chose the name of her father’s great-grandmother to take along.

Photo by Scot Facer Proctor.

Heather combed over maps and timetables to find what routes to take from the train station in Paris, which subway, which direction, and what distance. She felt prepared. Besides, she thought, she could always find a taxi.

The Wilsons landed at Charles De Gaulle the first weekend of August, as planned, and found a train to their hotel in Paris. The train, at 4 o’clock, was crammed full of passengers. While Heather squeezed into a seat with her luggage, Dave stood with his suitcase between his feet and hung onto a pole.

Heather said, “These four or five big, strong, husky men got on. They circled Dave and tried to get at his wallet and passport.”

Dave pushed them away. The men continued to maneuver around him.

 “Dave kept hitting them off and fighting, but they kept circling him, trying to get his wallet. Finally, as the train doors opened to our stop, Dave yelled.  The men went out and ran away. Dave’s suitcase went flying and he stumbled out.”

“I was confused, and Dave was explaining what happened, but I thought that my whole thing, my one thing for being there, was to go to the Temple and I would be going all by myself.”

A bit shaken, Heather and Dave arrived in Paris. “The hotel was beautiful, and we had a wonderful weekend, doing touristy things. We went to the Eiffel Tower but there was a stabbing or something that day so everything in Paris was at a heightened security.”

It was Paris’ seventh terrorist incident of 2017. (4)

The next day, Dave and Heather took the two-hour train trip to Lille. At the hotel, they noticed different framed prints of well-known travel destinations hung next to each door. The couple were “tickled” to discover the print next to their room was of the Salt Lake City Temple. Heather said it was an affirmation, “A sort of, ‘I gotcha.’”

As they went in and out of their room that week, she kissed the tip of her finger and touched it to the temple print.

Ignoring the memory of her husband’s attack, Heather bought a round-trip ticket from Lille to Paris. Her departure, on Tuesday, was at 8 a.m. and her returning train for 7 p.m. She wanted to be in the Temple for the 3:00 o’clock session.

That Tuesday, she carefully packed her temple clothes and knelt on the floor to pray. “I was worried about being in Paris. I was worried I might catch the eye of somebody who could really hurt me. Because of the heightened security, I knew the police were stopping every passenger and looking through their stuff. All I could think to say was, ‘Heavenly Father, please comfort me, protect my temple clothes, and please make me invisible.’” 

Settling in on the train, Heather clutched the packet of temple clothes under her arm and did not put them down for the entire two-hour trip.

In Paris, she disembarked and headed to the subway where police officers stopped everyone at the subway entrance to search their shopping bags, briefcases, and packages. Heather got in line, repeating the prayer, “Please Heavenly Father, help me protect my temple clothes and please make me invisible.” She also thought, “How am I going to explain the temple clothes without having to get them out and have everything looked at?”

As well, she rehearsed a little dialogue, something she could say to keep the officer from opening the packet tucked under her arm.

She watched as the officer searched the bag of the man ahead of her and watched as he waved the man along. Heather stepped up. The officer waved her along.

 “It shocked me when he just waved me through,” she said.

Heather glanced back at the person behind her, who waited while the officer sorted through their things.

She said she felt as if she had just “floated through the checkpoint”.

Also, because of the terrorist event, traffic around the Eiffel Tower had been re-routed, Heather would have to loop back along her planned route to get to a station where there was a train north, to Versailles. Overhead, the sun had climbed higher in the sky and heat shimmered on the street. Heather found herself in a mass of people, all trudging in the same direction.

At that station, “I said a silent prayer, ‘Please help me be invisible and help me protect my temple clothing.’ The officers opened the bags of the person ahead of me and waved them through. Then they waved me on through. They opened the bags of the person behind me.”

From there, she got on the subway to Versailles. She said, “I left (Lille) at 8 o’clock in the morning and I was planning to go to the 3:00 o’clock session. It was after 2 o’clock. I had a ticket back to Lille at 7 o’clock. I had a tight schedule.”

Heather consulted her map and saw that the temple was about a mile and a half from the subway. “I thought I could just grab a cab and go on up.”

It was not to be.

At the line of taxis in front of the station, Heather approached one. “I showed him the address of the Temple, and he said, ‘No’. I went on and on and on and on down the row of taxis and could not get one to take me.” 

Heather stood for a moment, thinking about the time, wondering what she could do, and sending up a prayer for help. She spotted a tourist information desk inside in the station. 

The man at the desk explained the drivers would not leave the line unless the fare was for the city or the airport.

Heather told him of her dilemma and showed him the address. “Oh,” he said, “you want to go to the Mormon church.”

“He was very sweet to me,” she said. “He took me out the door and pointed. He said, ‘If you go stand on that corner, about five minutes a bus is going to come. You go two stops and then get off. The temple will be right there.’”

Heather got on the bus, passed two stops, and got off. She saw nothing that looked like the Temple and no steeple-top Angel Moroni to guide her. Now, at 2:30 and with no time to explore, she opened her phone.

The GPS refused to load.

Feeling overwhelmed, she said, “Heavenly Father, please help me find the Temple. Point me in the right way.”

She said, “I just started going. Then, I turned down a street and there was the Temple. I ran up to the doors in front.”

 They were locked.

A temple worker came to the door, though, and directed Heather to the side and back where she could be “buzzed in”. At that door, a worker told her, “We’re full for the 3 o’clock session.”

Undeterred, Heather said, “You don’t understand what I had to do to get here. Please, can you find me a seat?”

They replied, “I’m sorry. The 3 o’clock session is full, but we’ll talk to the Temple Matron.”

Heather stepped outside to call Dave. If she couldn’t get into the 3 o’clock session, she’d stay until she got in. Even if it meant she’d stay overnight.

“They had me waiting and waiting. Finally, the Matron came. I told her I didn’t realize I had to make an appointment. I asked, ‘Is there any place in the temple where I can sit?’”

‘She said, “Yes, come with me.’”

“I had probably three minutes to change my clothes,” Heather said, “But I probably kept everyone waiting.”

“I was so worried that I wouldn’t make it and it took so long to get there. I was emotionally drained from hoping, then praying, then hoping, and praying. As soon as I sat down, all the tension went away. The world went away.”

With her great- great-grandmother’s name in hand, Heather attended a session where five Congolese refugees received their endowments. She described it as a tender, pin drop experience. Afterward, she wandered around the interior of the temple, admiring the craftmanship of the furnishings and the spiral staircase that rose to a skylight of beautiful art glass. Other windows were a joyful design of lilies, daisies, and lilacs in blues and lavenders.

“It was incredible. One of the most beautiful, most gorgeous temples I’ve ever been in,” she said.

A light rain fell as Heather stepped out of the temple. She strolled around the garden a bit before drifting to the white marble Christus. Standing there for a few moments, she thought of that day and her determined desire to attend the Paris Temple. Of how the Lord intervened so she could reach her goal. Of those whose eyes were covered so she could pass by. Of her answered prayers for protection. And was amazed to realize that because her goal was important to her, it was also important to the Lord.

“I felt a confirmation the Lord knew who I was, where I was, and knew of my desire. My gratitude for my Savior washed over me and peace magnified. All the emotional toil and struggle and anticipation were worth it. It was one of the most incredible experiences of my life. It was a miracle. It was my miracle.”

As Heather left the Temple grounds, she noticed a taxicab next to the curb. That cab took her directly to the station in time to catch the 7 o’clock train.

At the head of the boarding queue, a group of officers searched baggage. Heather uttered another heartfelt prayer for protection and safety. They checked the bags of the individual in front of her and waved them past. Once again, they waved Heather past. They checked the baggage of the person behind her and waved them past, too.

Inside the train, Heather sat, holding her temple clothes under her arm. “I was on a spiritual high,” she said of that moment. “I felt so much love, His love for me. I was surrounded by it.

“I was teary all the way back to Lille. And when I saw Dave, my safety net, waiting for me in the station, I just melted with tears running down my face. I was so glad I did it. I would do it again.”  

That evening, Dave and Heather walked the long hall to their hotel room. They stopped at the door. Heather kissed her fingertip and held it to the photo of the Salt Lake Temple.

Later that week, Heather traveled back to Paris, where officers searched her at every checkpoint.

David and Heather (Ridge) Wilson are the parents of six adult children and live in southern Idaho. The pair serve as Ward Temple and Family History Consultants. Heather is the Stake Relief Society Presidency’s First Counselor. She says her “side gigs” are volunteering at a local humanitarian center and serving in the Twin Falls, Idaho Temple.

NOTES:

  • Rubin, Alissa J.; Peltier, Elian, The Paris Attacks: Two Years Later (13 Nov. 2017). New York Times.
  • Sarah Jane Weaver, “President Eyring Dedicates Paris France  

 Temple,” Church News 21 May 2017, 25 Mar. 2019

  • Pool, Patrick; (06 Aug. 2017). “Man Arrested at Eiffel Tower in Apparent Terror Incident; 7th Terror Event in France This Year”. ET PJMEDIA

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Terry Bohle Montague is a graduate of BYU and a free-lance writer who has been published in newspaper, magazine, radio, and television. Her genre awards are for Historical Fiction and Contemporary Women’s Fiction. Fireweed, a novel, is a publication of Covenant Communications, Inc. and her non-fiction, Mine Angels Round About, is soon to be a T.C. Christensen film.