Despite the tragic inferno that destroyed an 850 year old cathedral, symbols of hope still shine through.
So far, the bell towers appear to be intact, lending hope to beliefs that rebuilding Notre Dame is definitely possible. Unfortunately, a new building won’t hold centuries of history. But the truly heart-breaking site emerged when firefighters entered the cathedral. There, the golden cross on the alter glowed, illuminating the damages.
French President Emmanuel Macron expressed his deep sorrow, calling the cathedral the “epicenter of our lives.”
Across France, and especially throughout Paris, expressions of distress were shared.
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In the eastern city of Strasbourg, which has an equally stunning cathedral made of red stone reminiscent of the glow the fire reflected on the towers of Notre Dame in Monday’s twilight, solidarity was immediate.
“All our heart is with Paris and Notre Dame,” the city said in a statement. Several European Union leaders were in town, gathering to address their legislature and discuss treaties, laws and regulations.
“The burning of the Notre Dame Cathedral has again made us aware that we are bound by something more important and more profound than treaties,” said EU Council President Donald Tusk early Tuesday.
For all, it was clear the monument transcended its religious meaning and instead was a symbol of European civilization.
President Macron was scheduled to give a speech addressing social inequality Monday. But news of the fire quickly shut down his plans. Instead, Macron delivered somber words alongside fundraising plans to his citizens.
“I tell you solemnly tonight: This cathedral, we will rebuild it, all together,” Macron said in front of the smoldering church. “Without a doubt it is a part of our French destiny.”
The French aren’t strangers to intensive restoration projects.
France has had to come to the aid of its monuments before. With many churches and monuments ravaged by the 1789 revolution, Eugene Viollet-le-Duc inspired a restoration drive during the 19th century that left monuments from Notre Dame to Mont St. Michel and the walled medieval city of Carcassonne the envy of the world.
And at the same time, beyond providing national pride, he helped France become of the top tourist nations in the world, which now adds some 200 billion euros annually to the nation’s GDP.
The draw of the French monuments was already there when U.S. chronicler Mark Twain visited Notre Dame a century and a half ago.
Mischievously, he wrote in “The Innocents Abroad”: “We recognized the brown old Gothic pile in a moment; it was like the pictures.”
He continued: “We loitered through the grand aisles for an hour or two, staring up at the rich stained-glass windows embellished with blue and yellow and crimson saints and martyrs, and trying to admire the numberless great pictures in the chapels,” he said of some of the attractions.
That picture had endured through the decades since. It changed indelibly on Monday.
Now that the fire stopped burning literally, there will be many figurative fires to put out. First, and foremost, we need to understand exactly how this blaze began.
As I previously wrote, the idea that this massive inferno erupted during the most holy week of the year doesn’t sound like much of a coincidence.
Many people speculate this is a Muslim attack on Christianity. In 2016, a car parked outside Notre Dame was discovered. It contained full gas tanks and documents written in Arabic. Therefore, authorities were well-aware of the threats posed against Notre Dame from the Muslim community. Honestly, we have to question the sanity of those so quickly denouncing the idea that this fire is a terrorist attack.
But whether or not we label this terrorism, a trove of Christian treasures went up in flames. Among the presumed losses are the crown Jesus wore during his crucifixion and a piece of the cross. This unlikely accident doesn’t set well with me, but like the rest of the world, I’m waiting for definitive answers to emerge.