French Christians sing “Je vous salue, Marie” (Hail Mary) as the Cathedral burns last night:
I’ve been loosely following reactions to the news in a few forums I read. Most of the comments are about what you’d expect: shock and sadness at the fire, relief that no lives have been lost (or even reported hurt, last I’ve seen), speculation about the cause, people telling each other to stop speculating about the cause. Some are mourning the loss of so much of the Cathedral as a symbol of Christianity; others are pointing out that the Church is made out of people, not buildings; both parties, of course, are correct.
Notre-Dame is a building, of far less worth than human life. It can be rebuilt –it won’t be exactly the same, but it will survive in some form. Just look at Coventry Cathedral: despite its irreparable losses in the Blitz, the new Cathedral is beautiful and does a lovely job of incorporating the ruins of the old. Even with the loss of Notre Dame’s roof, and its spire, and its beautiful stained glass, the destruction was not complete.
At the same time, the Cathedral is much more than “just a building”. It is a symbol of history, memory, the sacred, of France herself. Its site has been a place of worship not just for the 850 years that Notre-Dame has stood, but for hundreds of years before that, dating back to at least the Roman era. Many Cathedrals have been lost to fire and other disasters throughout history (again: see Coventry), but this is the first that I have witnessed*, and I was moved to tears as I watched footage last night. We have lost something beautiful, haven’t we?
Notre-Dame is/was a symbol of Christianity in France — it is my prayer that the burning of the Cathedral will not be for nothing. I hope to see it restored and rebuilt, but more than that, I hope that this tragedy moves many in France and beyond to open not just their wallets for restoration efforts but their hearts to God. May these flames spark revival!
* NB: St Jude’s Cathedral in Iqaluit was also irreparably damaged by fire within recent memory (2005); however, I barely remember hearing about it at the time, so for me it doesn’t count as one I’ve personally “witnessed”.