Many people are talking about it. Somehow, this event, this tragedy, has reawakened in us a sense of our connection with history, with culture and with religion.
The Cathedral’s original construction was begun more than 850 years ago, and its location had religious significance for centuries before that. Kings, popes, emperors have gathered there; wars, revolutions and desecrations have moved in and out of it. Thirteen million people visited it every year.
Thankfully, though the fire was spectacular, no one was killed and only one person, a firefighter, was seriously injured battling the blaze. It is true that the most magnificent building in the world is less valuable than a single human life. But it is also true that our sacred places deeply affect our human lives, and draw us together. Millions of people, Parisians and worldwide, Catholic and atheist, young and old, have been profoundly affected by this loss, and we need to recognize and support one another, whether we have a connection to the building or not.
For me, to imagine the community that came together to build such a structure, originally taking 100 years just to build it, shifts something in my heart. In cold and heat, with heavy rough stone and enormous beams of wood, countless nameless people worked at something they knew to be a great accomplishment, though they would never know the tremendous events this Cathedral would witness.
Just as I didn’t really know what my textbook was saying until I stood there, these builders and their families would be connected to a future they couldn’t imagine by this same building.
Being inside a grand cathedral is meant to be an emotional and spiritual experience, expressed in the physical materials and the mindful architecture.
These flying buttresses I mentioned meant that the walls could be much higher and thinner than any in that part of the world, with much more area opened up for windows. The architectural advancements meant you could stand in the building and have your gaze drawn up into an incredible ceiling that felt like heaven. The visual artistry of the time created gorgeous coloured stained glass by which light, also representing God, would stream in as vibrant hues. Other artists sculpted countless religious monuments so that people who could not read would learn the story of God’s saving power, meet our ancestors of faith, and find themselves in a story that involves all of us. The music and tone of an indescribable pipe organ, and the bells that rang in the tower reverberated song through one’s whole body, long before amplifiers and vibrating seats.
All of these innovations, which went on to inspire new inventions that we use and take for granted all the time, originated from this deep desire of the community to translate spiritual faith in God into a physical space to share. Somehow, every church, every place of worship, every sacred place holds this same memory, teaches the same wisdom: we are spiritual beings, expressed through physical reality.
While I grieve for the loss of history and culture that the Notre Dame fire has destroyed, I see reflected in so many eyes the same love for this beautiful expression of ourselves, and I notice that political and religious divisions are laid down for a time. Perhaps we can learn not to take our sacred expressions for granted, become united once more in building and rebuilding, and above all see the beauty we share more clearly than our ugly excuses for division, that destroyer of peace.
Let us pray for peace with Our Lady of Paris, and of Lourdes.
St Kateri, pray for us.
Our Lady of Paris and of Lourdes, pray for us.
St. Bernadette, pray for us.