As I’m sure you all know, Notre Dame was burned down on Monday evening. I had another post scheduled for today but had to share a couple of thoughts about the devastating fire which destroyed one of Europe’s — and Christianity’s — icons.
As reported by the Washington Post, construction of Notre Dame, which was built on the ruins of earlier churches, began in 1163, when Pope Alexander III laid the foundation stone. It wasn’t completed until 1345.
Since that time, it has seen the coronations of Henry VI of England in 1431 and of Napoleon in 1804. It was vandalized in the 16th century by Huguenots and was used as a food warehouse during the French Revolution. It served as the backdrop for Victor Hugo’s 1831 “Notre Dame de Paris” (better known in English as “The Hunchback of Notre Dame”).
Much of the current structure dates not to the 12th century but to the 19th. Not entirely, though: the famous South Rose window, offered by King St. Louis, was created in 1260. Miraculously, it survived the fire.
The cathedral housed other irreplaceable works of art, too. In the sanctuary, there was a statue of Madonna and Child which dates back to the 14th century. There were priceless paintings, like the 1648 portrait of St. Thomas Aquinas at the fountain of wisdom, and the divine “Visitation” from 1716.
Thankfully, some of it was taken out recently for restoration. Any remaining artworks were removed during the fire thanks to a hastily formed human chain and a quick-thinking Notre Dame priest.
Reactions on social media seemed to fall under three categories.
The largest group of people, myself included, was shocked by the fire and mourned the damage. We remain optimistic that the Cathedral will be rebuilt and that the destruction wrought will turn out to be smaller than originally thought.
Then, there is a cooler attitude. Some people were quick to point out that, in fact, the Cathedral had been damaged in the past, so it will be rebuilt. To me, these people are using reason to avoid dealing emotionally with the shock of losing such a treasure.
Finally, there is a minority which actually seemed to enjoy the news. I came across comments such as, “Sure I’m upset about the destruction of a monument celebrating the oppression of the masses by Medieval Church” or “Europe, you’re next.” Which goes to show you that there’s one born every minute and reminds us what civilization is constantly fighting against: humanity’s uglier side.
I choose to share here not photos of the fire (there are plenty of those in the news) but of the Cathedral as it was up until a couple of days ago. I do this in the hopes that we’ll get to admire it in its full glory soon enough and that the fire will serve to unite a divided nation–and continent.
Today, we’re all French.