Notre Dame

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An incomparable world treasure.

In my bedroom I have a small crucifix, an inexpensive plastic and pot metal tourist affair my parents bought for me at my request when I was five years old. We bought it at the little souvenir shop in Notre Dame during our first, but not our last, visit to that incomparable tribute to the glory of God. One of the greatest and oldest symbols of man’s faith and yearning, a building started almost nine-hundred-years ago and completed almost eight-hundred-years ago, with some of the most spectacular stained-glass windows and some of the most exquisitely glorious bells in the world, filled with irreplaceable art, a history that includes the coronations of Henry VI and Napoleon, the marriages of both James V of Scotland and later Mary, Queen of Scots to the Dauphin who became Francis II of France, a building that survived time, riots, Huguenot and secular abuse, as well as two world wars and the Nazis, that building is no more.

I watched the unspeakable devastation with the same heartache and horror with which I watched the attack on the Twin Towers on 9/11. That this tragedy should have occurred at all is a loss that makes me sick to my stomach; that it should have occurred during Holy Week is incomprehensible. It is not just France’s loss, or the Catholic Church’s loss, or even Christianity’s loss; it is the world’s loss, but my heart and my deepest sympathies go out to France and the French people.

The bells of Notre Dame were rung in sympathy for the American people after the evil of the 9/11 Twin Towers attack. If I could play The Marseilles, I would.

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8 thoughts on “Notre Dame”

  1. It is so sad that a building, a timeless symbol of resilience and enduring faith, that took more than 5 generations to build is utterly gutted to be but a charred shell in a few short hours. The deep sense of loss and helplessness is numbing and difficult to process.
    Your mention of 9/11 is spot on. There are only so many monuments in the world that speak to human aspiration, inspiration, and ingenuity like the cathedral. While watching the news I was reminded of Pillars of the Earth and the rich tapestry of human stories represented in every stone.
    I wanted to thank you for your writing. It is quite inspirational.
    Ken from Dallas

    1. I was thinking the same thing. I couldn’t help but think of the book “Pillars of the Earth” about the building of the fictional Knightsbridge Cathedral.

  2. Mon cœur saigne. Lorsque j’ai vu la flèche de la cathédrale tomber, je n’ai pas pu m’empêcher de pleurer. C’est une oeuvre architecturale et un savoir-faire de l’époque. Des siècles de souvenirs partis en fumée !!!! c’est triste…..
    Anita

  3. Speechless and helpless. That is how I felt this Monday evening looking at Notre-Dame burning.  It was like being in the Middle Ages and witnessing fire destroying a monument. I could not imagine that it was possible to see that at the beginning of the 21st Century. As a culture and history lover, it was really hard to watch for hours at this destruction without knowing when it will stop or if it will stop. And as a Parisian, my heart is broken.

    Notre-Dame is the heart of Paris, geographically speaking since the cathedral is right in the center of the city but above all historically, culturally, religiously and intellectually speaking. Its bells have punctuated life of France and nourished the imagination of artists for centuries. Whether you are Catholic or not, whether you are French or not, you know the invaluable heritage the Cathedral represents. But when you live in Paris and that you are used to see it very often, it is a part of your life and heritage.

    It is like an old dame you walk by quite every day but you don’t stop at because you know it will still be there tomorrow with all its treasures and our History. Because Notre-Dame is eternal. But the fire brutally reminded us that it was not. It has shown us that 856 years of culture, history and religion could vanish in few hours. It reminds us that nothing, even immortal cultural treasures, can never be taken for granted.

    And Tuesday morning, while going to the office and looking at the Cathedral as every morning, I discovered this sad emptiness. Not only the roof and the spire were not there anymore, but the soul, its soul. And with it, the soul of Paris and Parisians (and surely the soul of France). The words of Victor Hugo resonate with a cold reality: “Notre-Dame is to-day deserted, inanimate, dead. One feels that something has disappeared from it” (Notre-Dame de Paris 1482)

    But Notre Dame has survived for almost 9 centuries, it survived wars of religion, the French Revolution that deeply disfigured it, two world wars, and today this unbelievable fire. The worst was avoided, the Cathedral did not collapse. Thus, it will rise up again with all its magnificence.  

    To finish, I let you with the beautiful verses of a poem by Louis Aragon, with all the hope of Notre-Dame as a symbol of resilience during the darkest hours of our History (in French, yes, because it is beautiful as such)

    “Qui n’a pas vu le jour se lever sur la Seine

    Ignore ce que c’est que ce déchirement

    Quand prise sur le fait la nuit qui se dément

    Se défend se défait les yeux rouges obscènes

    Et Notre-Dame sort des eaux comme un aimant »

    Paris 42, Louis Aragon (1942)

  4. Although I too was saddened to see the loss of that iconic building and the loss of items of great cultural and artistic significance, I find it hard to accept any sort of side-by-side mention with the 9/11 attacks. In Paris there was no loss of human life. It really is, after all, just a building. An editorial I just read suggests we are more concerned about the Notre Dame fire than we are with the Sri Lanka attacks. In the latter we again have the loss of many human lives which are more irreplaceable than a building.
    Nora M

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