Posts Tagged ‘Paris’

After the fire

April 24, 2019

A week on from the fire, I can uncover my eyes and see what happened. What a joy to see this:

Notre-Dame was my first Gothic cathedral. I went to Paris when an undergraduate, on my first trip to Europe. I arrived in the early morning hours, before I could check-in at my lodgings, so I walked to Notre-Dame. I remember arriving in the plaza before the church, and gazing up at her in wonder, hardly believing that she was real, and that I was really seeing her with my own eyes. I threw my backpack down on a bench and sat, simply taking in that beautiful facade. I remember that I glanced along the bench at another traveller, also toting a backpack, and roughly my age. He said to me, in English, “I had to see her again before leaving”. I simply nodded in understanding. When I heard about the fire, among the many thoughts that crowded my mind were these: where is he now, and what is he feeling this day?

The damage, thanks be to God, seems to be not as devastating as was originally feared. The firefighters of Paris are genuine heroes in this affair. The north tower was apparently threatened most nearly — threatened by the bells, which, if their wooden supports had burned, would have plunged down the length of the tower and collapsed it. The firefighters mobilized to rescue the many treasures, sacred and artistic, which the church housed. I was most touched by the story of the chaplain to the Paris firefighters, Fr Jean-Marc Fournier, who rescued the Blessed Sacrament from the tabernacle and the crown of thorns reliquary. I was also amused to learn that the Parisian fire brigade deployed a secret weapon against the fire: Colossus, a fire-fighting robot.

One of the treasures of the church, after its relics, rose windows, and facade, is its organ. I attended an organ recital there some years ago, and remember it fondly. Here is a short documentary featuring it:

Much has been written about the church, about what it means to Parisians and to the French nation, and about its significance for Catholics around the world. Quite a few writers have been tempted by the metaphorical potency of a burning cathedral in the center of secularized Europe. Without denying that they have a point, such reactions seem to me tactless at this point. The church burned, and that is more than enough to reckon with, without having it turned into a lecture illustration or commandeered for partisan gain.

Having said that, I admit I cannot help taking heart, under the circumstances, from images like this, which are like an Easter homily in themselves:

Macron has committed to rebuilding what was damaged, and there have been a number of absurdly large donations from absurdly rich French citizens, along with a stream of modest donations from lovers of the cathedral around the world. I made a small donation myself. We hear rumours of our cultured despisers wanting to turn this monument honouring Our Lady into a monument honouring Ourselves. I hope and pray that they are thwarted. May the beautiful church of Notre-Dame de Paris be protected from the hands of Daniel Libeskind, I.M. Pei, and all like-minded vandals. Let us love her even in her infirmity.