A tragedy has struck Paris. The City of Lights was lit this week by the burning of Notre-Dame de Paris.
On Monday morning, a fire stared somewhere amidst the roof and extensive scaffolding put in place to repair the church. The fire lasted some 15 hours, consuming the attic of the church, collapsing the spire, and melting the lead roof.
Normally, the burning of a building would not attract much attention. But this Gothic monument is drawing global attention. It is being discussed by all the talking heads, bloggers, pod casters, and commentators. In short, it’s the hot topic for anyone who cares for culture and events. But… why?
An Outsized Impact
Why are so many in shock? Why did Parisians stand outside the fire, some in tears, some singing Ave Maria? Why are French billionaires pledging over $500 million to rebuild this 800-year old edifice of faith?
I understand, because I have visited Notre Dame. I once dated the daughter of a minister whose family lived in Europe. I walked the cathedral with a beautiful young woman by my side, unable to decide which was lovelier. We looked in awe upon the centuries old soaring roof. High above, we spotted the Madonna and Child in the vaulted roof above the altar. I cannot forget my time in Our Lady of Paris, and to see her burning had me near to tears.
On Monday, many French were in tears. Notre Dame is more than a building. It is more than religious structure. In Notre Dame, we see some of the best that the West had to offer.
Her construction was ordered by Maurice de Sully, Bishop of Paris, in 1160, and was finished around 1345. It has been tinkered with over time, with the now-collapsed spire being added in the nineteenth century.
Like many cathedrals, we do not know who built Notre Dame, who designed her, or who led her construction over two centuries. This was to ensure that no glory was given to the craftsmen, but that all glory be given to God, for whom the church was built.
Meeting of Mind and Heart
Notre Dame is an example of the meeting of Athens and Jerusalem. It took great technological ability to plan and build the cathedral. This was only possible due to medieval advances in building. It used flying buttresses to support the roof, rather than thick walls as had been used before.
What was the purpose for which all that talent and wealth was bent? It was the same one which urged Jews to build the Temple of Solomon, and which urged my own church elders to mortgage their homes to build a tiny, country church. They simply wished to have a place to bring glory to the God who made them.
A Catholic Legacy
France may have lost much of its own Catholic fervor, but the vestiges are still there. Modern French citizens may not think much of their nation’s religious past. However, they cannot but be impressed at the edifices of faith and beauty which dot the landscape of that legendary country. Secular France may not rebuild Notre Dame for reasons more than cultural attachment and love of beauty. However, even that is enough to share with the faithful who see the larger purpose of the church in the first place.
I, while not a Roman Catholic, also wish for nothing more now than to see the Our Lady of Paris restored to her former glory.
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The French Heritage Society, among other groups, is raising funds to rebuild Notre Dame. Those interested in contributing may do so at this link.