There are only a few landmarks in the world that inspire a sense of breath-taking wonder; places admired not merely for their architectural achievement, but for their beauty and significance to humanity as a whole. Notre Dame was one of these. As the 850-year-old monument to the roots of Western civilization burned yesterday evening, it was difficult not to feel that a part of our very culture was being lost.
The spiritual sadness felt across the globe today grants us a peek behind the curtain of human emotion. The rampaging fire that toppled the iconic steeple and vanquished the roof of this wondrous cathedral may also have ignited something long lost … the desire to exist in a world where monuments of stone and wood can bring tears to our eyes.
Our Lady Resists
Over 400 brave firefighters battled the blaze into the small hours of the morning, finally dousing the fire before the vault could succumb. French Junior Interior Minister, Laurent Nuñes, said that:
“The task overnight was to bring the fire under control so it doesn’t restart. The task is – now the risk of fire has been put aside – about the building, how the structure will resist.”
French President Emmanuel Macron released a series of statements and tweets expressing not only his sorrow at the destruction of this grand jewel but also his fortitude that the future will not be so dark:
“Our Lady of Paris in flames. Emotion of a whole nation. Thought for all Catholics and for all French. Like all our countrymen, I’m sad tonight to see this part of us burn.
This Notre-Dame Cathedral, we will rebuild it. All together. This is part of our French destiny. I am committed to this: from tomorrow a national subscription will be launched, and far beyond our borders.”
Mourn for Our Lady of Paris
History shows us that when essential parts of our civilization are destroyed, we remember, and we mourn. In 48 B.C., the Great Library of Alexandria burnt to the ground – some Roman writers claim it was accidentally destroyed during a siege led by Julius Caesar. Today, we still think of this loss, and imagine what the world would be like if we had managed to somehow save the 40,000 scrolls … scrolls of such importance that the largest library in the ancient world was built to house them.
Notre Dame did not contain scrolls or books as her treasure. Instead, she held art within her very walls. Her stained glass windows (state unknown) can surely be classed as one of mankind’s greatest possessions; if they are gone, the emotion felt upon witnessing them can never be reclaimed by the human race.
A Cri De Cœur
Yes, this is a time to mourn what is lost, but also an opportunity to reflect on the world we wish to see built around us. Do we want more bland structures of glass and steel designed to worship industry? Will we create more monstrous constructions of concrete speaking the “grandeur” of government? Or is this an opportunity on which to build a new renaissance in art, architecture, and beauty that once appeared to be lost to the past?
The rebuilding efforts will not be borne on the shoulders of France alone. Although a symbol of the French nation, like other monuments to God and man, the cathedral’s continued existence is the responsibility, the duty, and the privilege of us all.