It was with great sadness that I watched the burning of Notre Dame in Paris this evening. It came through on Twitter with some extraordinary video footage. The spire falling was very dramatic. The Parisians singing hymns was very poignant.
Any regular reader of this blog will know how much I love Paris. We’ve been going via the Eurostar for years; a weekend here, a week there. We have come to think of it as our second capital city. And Notre Dame has always been a centre point of our trips.
Our first trip to Paris in 1999, may not have been our most delightful but standing outside the cathedral was certainly magical.
We didn’t go inside but did wander around, admiring the tourists who were obviously prepared to queue for hours. Speaking of queues…here’s a photo of the queue in 2008. It has wound around the side of the cathedral and probably took most of the day for the stragglers.
Still, we did manage to visit the inside. It was in 2006 and I was a little less than enthusiastic with my opinions:
It strikes me that this church has little spiritual feeling remaining as the tourists wander around, taking photographs, filming people praying – in terms of worship, this would be one of the last places I’d visit! It is also quite gloomy. However, what is very impressive is the north facing rose window. It is huge and not one part of it is either horizontal or vertical and it gives the impression that it is moving.
We don’t always visit Notre Dame on our Paris trips but it’s enough to know that it’s there. It’s a bit like seeing St Paul’s in London. It’s comforting. And it’s symbolic.
It’s symbolic of human mortality that an edifice can be seen by many, many generations of us short lived creatures because we have the ability to construct such a long lasting thing of beauty. It doesn’t matter if one is religious or not. It doesn’t matter if one is knowledgeable in the ways of flying buttresses or religious incantations. It does matter that this beautiful church existed.
It’s good to know that there are so many people who love Notre Dame. Of all the tweets I read tonight, one stood out. It was from Yvette Cooper, a Labour MP (who, some believe, should be the Leader of the Opposition) who was in Paris today.
It was a sad day but it was full of bravery. There were people saving precious artworks and fake reliquaries, disregarding their own safety as the cathedral threatened to collapse on to them. There were the firefighters who, as most firefighters do, worked tirelessly and carefully to minimise the damage.
The call is now to rebuild Notre Dame. Given what has been done throughout Europe following the Second World War, it’s entirely possible that the new one will look exactly like the one that burned today. But, hopefully, with a bit less fire risk.
Just a thought to finish on. A lot of people are claiming to be praying. I’m not sure what they are praying for. Given god is omni-powerful and omni-present, surely he let the fire take Notre Dame in the first place. I’m not sure what prayer is going to do except, perhaps, give him pause to think that possibly his followers doubt his wisdom.
I’ll never understand religious people. That doesn’t stop me loving Notre Dame.