Photo by Stephanie LeBlanc on Unsplash

 There’s nothing modern about this tragedy.

Like many, I found the pictures of Notre Dame—with flames reaching to the heavens, the ornate steeple collapsing like a toothpick sculpture— heart wrenching. I’m lucky to have experienced her exterior and interior on many trips to Paris. (The inside and outside are very different, as different perhaps as Paris and France.)

My first time was in the spring of 1983. I stumbled downhill from the Latin Quarter, bleary, knowing for the first time the unique funk jetlag can bring. I gaped up at Notre Dame’s solemn face and saw nothing there to persuade me from my pissy mood. The large café au lait at the hotel had barely dented my fatigue, and my first croissant lay uneasily in my belly.

I stepped inside, into the cool immense gloom and the sounds of voices singing Bach. The shadows tumbled from my heart and tears filled my eyes. I stepped slowly, carefully through the vast space, as if this utterly unexpected joy was fragile, like a robin’s egg, and might at any moment crack. I stood under the rose window which glowed with muted colors such as I’d never seen. The music washed over me in gentle waves, piercing my heart.

For someone who’s never been a Christian, I have a remarkable affinity for Christian art, architecture, and music. For all that The Church has gotten wrong—from the Inquisition to the sex abuse scandal—they’ve done at least one thing right. They’ve inspired work that evokes the elusive states of awe, mystery and joy.

So for me the loss of Notre Dame is the loss of a living vehicle for personal transformation. It’s unclear at this time how much has been lost. And it’s certain that Notre Dame will be rebuilt. But has its magic survived those flames? It’s much too soon to tell.

The destruction of an artistic masterpiece leaves guilt in the wake of sorrow. After all, no one died in the fire at Notre Dame. Then why such grief?

Because unlike every one of us living on the planet, who must die, Notre Dame represents the eternal. Yes, we can imagine war, the floods of climate change, or the end of the solar system finally bringing this cathedral down. But we choose not to. So the visible death of this thing that should never die is terrible to witness.

No modern-day terrorists brought down Notre Dame. Old churches with wooden roofs have been burning for a thousand years.

Notre Dame is not considered to be the greatest Gothic Cathedral. That honor goes to Chartres. The church we now know was built in an astonishing 25 years after another catastrophic fire gutted the older, lesser church. It seems impossible that Notre Dame will rise from its ashes as something greater than what’s been lost. It was the product of times unimaginably different than ours.

The only thing in common between then and now is that yearning for transcendence. We ache as its physical embodiment lies in ashes. But the yearning lives in us and will find vehicles for expression.

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Comment by Ron Powell on April 16, 2019 at 2:24pm

I will always remember the Cathedral of Notre Dame as the location of one of the greatest movie portrayals and performances of all time; Charles Leighton as the Hunchback of Notre Dame:

Comment by koshersalaami on April 16, 2019 at 2:48pm

I’ve been once, when I was thirteen. I don’t remember it that clearly though I remember climbing one tower, walking across and going down the other.

What has survived?

The towers. The overall structure. The relics. The rose glass window, reported yesterday on an American network to have been destroyed but the guy was looking at the wrong window. The steeple that burned had been rebuilt in the nineteenth century. 

A lot survived. The cathedral is not gone. 

Comment by alsoknownas on April 16, 2019 at 3:37pm

Attorney General Barr has reviewed the photos and determined there isn't any evidence of a fire.

Comment by Anna Herrington on April 17, 2019 at 7:37am

One of our nieces is currently in France, she was so affected by the crowds that had gathered and were singing while flames were shooting skyward in the background... So glad the structure was not entirely destroyed, although it sounds like it was close, 15-30 minutes away. Reading about the timbers holding up the roof, seeded in 8th C., cut in 12th C.... wow.

The news of the early fire alarm, no sign of fire, then second alarm after the blaze had started is a bit suspicious... 

Last Fall, interestingly, one of the morning shows, Today show? did a segment on the deteriorating Notre Dame, huge chunks of ornate carved stone falling, piles of them stored up in sheds, the flying buttresses crumbling in certain spots. A lot of money and effort to keep these old structures viable - the outpouring of donations now will actually help restore the cathedral faster than before the fire, I'm now wondering...?

Comment by Anna Herrington on April 17, 2019 at 7:38am

aka - HA! Oh, that's good.

Comment by Anna Herrington on April 17, 2019 at 10:21am

Having read further information this morning, with thoughts of electrical issues as first spark, then computer glitch pinning fire start at wrong location - as reported on the news - the alarm calls seem less.... odd. At this point.

Comment by Safe Bet's Amy on April 17, 2019 at 11:41am

I guess the good news, for the rest of y'all, is that at least you aren't being blamed for it.

If you're LGBTQ, at least according to Pat Robinson (and I'm sure most ecumenicals believe him), the fire was caused by too many homosexuals burning in Hell.

 “It was bound to happen. This is all written in the Bible. We as a society just let everything be gay this and gay that,” lamented the minister. “Soon enough, there’s just too many homosexuals, and when all those surplus homosexuals started to die, Hell commenced with a burning so bright, so intense, there was bound to be some that would spill over to the Earth.”

https://brownvalleyobserver.com/2019/04/15/pat-robertson-claims-not...

...and, yeah...  I know I shouldn't pay attention to shit like this, but hate hurts no matter where if comes from of how often you hear it.

Comment by Anna Herrington on April 17, 2019 at 11:56am

Amy, step away from the lunacy!!  Protect yourself - seriously!

....because the guy is so in touch with reality... :

  • "That was never in the Constitution, however much the liberals laugh at me for saying it, they know good and well it was never in the Constitution! Such language only appeared in the constitution of the Communist Soviet Union." –On the constitutional separation of church and state
"You know, I don't know about this doctrine of assassination, but if he thinks we're trying to assassinate him, I think that we really ought to go ahead and do it. It's a whole lot cheaper than starting a war... We have the ability to take him out, and I think the time has come that we exercise that ability. We don't need another $200 billion war to get rid of one, you know, strong-arm dictator. It's a whole lot easier to have some of the covert operatives do the job and then get it over with." –Calling for the assassination of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez
 ~ Brought to you (with terrible formatting) by: 10 Most Ridiculous Pat Robertson Quotes @ thoughtco.com
Comment by John Manchester on April 17, 2019 at 12:07pm

Pat Robertson is an extremely lucky man. Were his imaginary Hell real, he'd very soon be roasting. 

Comment by moki ikom on April 17, 2019 at 1:24pm

Likewise, were the phony prophet's imaginary Heaven with God to exist, his imagined God would have toppled the cathedral's spire with the same motive as is behind busting the noses off of statues, time to move beyond and without myths and idolatry.  

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