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Notre Drame – Paris

Translated to "our drama" and "tragedy." Title courtesy of French newspaper "Libération"

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Notre Drame – Paris

Photo Courtesy of Christophe Petit Tesson, Pool via AP

Photo Courtesy of Christophe Petit Tesson, Pool via AP

Photo Courtesy of Christophe Petit Tesson, Pool via AP

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The Shock and Reaction

“Notre Dame is on fire,” Mrs. Gribbin exclaimed from the back of the classroom as a handful of students sat watching live coverage of the incident on their computers. Given the American pronunciation of the place (NOH-tər-DAYM), I initially understood that the University of Notre Dame in Indiana was ablaze, but when I walked over to the laptops where students followed the event as it happened, I quickly became aware of the monumental coverage I was witnessing: the Cathedral of Notre Dame de Paris in Paris, France was on fire. By the time I tuned into CBS News’ live coverage, the spiral on the south end of the megachurch had already collapsed and the roof had caved-in, leaving an ominous cloud of fire and ash over the City of Lights. From the moment forward, the already eerie rainy day took a turn for the worse.

The Cathedral, a popular tourist attraction in metropolitan Paris, is arguably one of the most historically significant edifices in the city, tracing its origins to the 12th century. The church has accompanied Paris and France through its long and circuitous history, serving as the center of Parisian culture and society. Sitting at the figurative and geographic heart of the French capital, Notre Dame de Paris is situated on the Île de la Cité, an island in the center of the Seine River. This symbol of the Middle Ages is truly one of the last remnants of Paris’ Medieval History. Accompanying the philosophical discussions of the Age of the Enlightenment, the musical and artistic movements of the past, and the democracy-seeking French Revolution, the cathedral has been a center for Parisian culture. During the French Revolution, the resistance movement sought to destroy the cathedral and all symbols of the imperial and medieval history of what many considered a dark history, yet it survived.

Religiously, the Cathedral is the most prominent Roman Catholic church in all of Paris, remaining a symbol of spirituality and theology as the citizens of France become increasingly irreligious. The most devastating aspect of this tragic occurrence may just be the time at which it happened: Holy Passion Week. Passion Week, the most important week of the liturgical calendar, was ushered in with happiness as Catholics around the world celebrated Palm Sunday. However, this jubilation was tainted by the destruction of the Cathedral of Notre Dame de Paris (and later by the violent attacks in Sri Lanka). Pilgrims and Catholics worldwide mourned not only the physical loss of the epicenter of Parisian religiosity but also the symbolic loss of all that the cathedral represents. However, as vowed by the French president, Notre Dame de Paris will rise again. The images of the shining cross in the middle of the debris field in the nave of the cathedral have reignited the sentiments of hope and unity in Catholic communities worldwide.

As we exited the building on that somber afternoon, students from the most interested in international politics and culture to those who would usually ignore the news were discussing the tragic loss of this center for human culture. Although many expressed apathy towards the scenario, not realizing the grave history and cultural loss they had witnessed, others were visibly shocked and concerned. I, personally, was very saddened by the news from Paris. Being a self-proclaimed Francophile, I felt particularly concerned with the impact on the already divided French nation. The first thought that crossed my mind was the fact the I would never again have the opportunity to enter the magnificent cathedral. I traveled to Paris in July of 2015 and saw the beauty of Notre Dame’s buttresses and gargoyles, but as novice tourists, my parents were scared off by the long lines in the late afternoon; instead of waiting and visiting the interior, we ventured through the Latin Quarter. Speaking with some of my fellow Oratory classmates, I noted they had similar feelings. Junior Nick Looney, who is planning to visit France in the summer expressed his disappointment, saying, “I’m very upset about it. We won’t be seeing it at all, most likely. So many pieces of history, gone. It was one of the things I was looking forward to most on my summer trip through Europe. A big loss for the French, Catholics, history buffs, and just the culture of the world.” Another junior, Kyle Roethlin, told me his biggest concern was in the loss of history. He stated, “ a lot of history has been destroyed, which is pretty terrible. The cathedral saw the coronation of Napoleon and many other important events. It’s just a really terrible thing.”

In the end, this tragedy marked a turn in the history of Paris. Forever will we remember the day on which the Cathedral of Notre Dame de Paris burned.

 

What Was Lost?

As onlookers watched the cathedral’s blaze helplessly, several prevailing questions sat at the back of everyone’s minds: How much would the fire destroy? What would remain of this holy icon of Parisian history? What would come next? Now, one week after the fire, some of these questions have answers. We now know the status of some of Notre Dame’s most famous, most significant relics, the basis for plans to rebuild the cathedral, and what may come in the future.

Notre Dame’s most cherished relics include the Crown of Thorns, the massive Rose Windows, and the Grand Cathedral. All three of these, along with thousands of paintings and other treasures, have been saved, according to several police investigators and cathedral clergy. At this point, the greatest confirmed loss is the famous central spire and the sculptures of the Twelve Apostles which ringed it, however, the twin Bell Towers and great bell Emmanuelle are safe. In fact, the majority of the building’s stone structure is safe, with the greatest concern right now being the North Transept (specifically, the massive hole where its vault used to be). Several officials have commented that the stonework is safe, and even the North Transept will be fine and will be given temporary reinforcement as a precaution. Thousands of paintings kept in the cathedral will be taken to facilities owned by the Louvre Museum for restoration, cleaning, and interim storage.

 

The Future

Before the fire was even put out on Monday, French President, Emmanuel Macron, pledged that the historic cathedral would be rebuilt to its former glory. Within 24 hours, it wasn’t even a question of how—700 million euros had already been pledged, mostly by European billionaires, by Tuesday evening, and the current total already sits above one billion euros. Macron even challenged his countrymen to finish the project within five years. Notre Dame de Paris’ legacy will continue, and Paris will once again have its cultural, historic, and religious center restored, rising above the ashes like the phoenix it always represented.

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