Notre-Dame

I watched Notre-Dame burn yesterday, I cried and I had to turn away from it – I couldn’t bear it. I read this by the always excellent Douglas Murray, it encapsulates everything I feel and think – he is much more eloquent that I could ever be. This is Douglas for The Spectator: link to the original article is here: https://blogs.spectator.co.uk/2019/04/notre-dames-loss-is-too-much-to-bear/amp/?__twitter_impression=true

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Civilisation only ever hangs by a thread. Today one of those threads seems to have frayed, perhaps snapped. It is impossible to watch the footage coming out of Paris. Like videos of pornographic violence, all that can be done is to groan and turn away. It is not possible to watch the spire of Notre Dame collapse. It is not possible to watch the great cathedral consumed by fire.

Evelyn Waugh once said that in the event of a fire in his house, if he was able only to save his children or his library, he would save his library because books were irreplaceable. Only at a moment such as this is it possible to concede the slightest truth in that remark. Almost anything could be borne rather than the loss of this building.

There will be recriminations, of course. There will be disputes about budgets, and overtime and safety standards and much more. It is worth reading this piece from two years ago about the funding problems that existed around the cathedral’s restoration. But if Notre Dame can burn then all this is as nothing, because it tells us something too deep to bear. As I said a couple of years ago in a book, in some way the future of civilisation in Europe will be decided on what our attitude is towards the great churches and other cultural buildings of our heritage standing in our midst. Do we contend with them, hate them, ignore them, engage with them or continue to revere them? Do we preserve them?

Though politicians may imagine that ages are judged on the minutiae of government policy, they are not. They are judged on what they leave behind: most of all on how they treat what the past has handed into their care. Even if today’s disaster was simply the most freakish of accidents, ours would still be the era that lost Notre Dame.

We would have to tell future generations what it was like, this treasure that we lost. At the start of this decade I was living part of each week in Paris, commuting back and forth to a little flat on the edge of Le Marais. Each time I headed out to the earliest Eurostar on a Monday morning I would see the great cathedral first as I turned into the street. One winter morning heavy snow was falling and as I headed to the station I stopped dead, alone in the street with the cathedral and just drinking in the sight of a building I had seen a hundred times before. When I got into London a friend could see I was just beaming still, radiating far too much joy for such a time of the week. He asked how I was and I remember simply saying, ‘This morning I saw Notre Dame in the snow’. It was like that.

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27 thoughts on “Notre-Dame

  1. C’est d’une tristesse infinie. Même reconstruit, cet édifice historique n’aura plus jamais la même âme…
    Heureusement qu’une partie des murs et des œuvres a été sauvée. Cela nous permet de nous consoler… un peu.

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  2. I have mixed feelings about Notre Dame burning. One part of me says that lots of people feel it is significant in some way – so their thoughts should be respected, but another part of me says that it’s just stone, wood, metal and glass – it’s just a thing.

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    1. Oh sweet lord, Jonathan! It might just be a building to you but it’s not to me. I would have felt the same if St Paul was burning because although it’s a tiny bit about being French, it’s mainly about being human and appreciating History and Beauty, and wanting to preserve it. Consider that this ‘building’ has been standing for almost 900 years, that it is a feat of architecture dreamt of and built so long ago, that it has survived 2 world wars and plagues etc… somebody else said it was just a building, it wasn’t like it was ‘human people’…well, I disagree. Notre-Dame IS ‘human people’ – it was built by them, it has been loved and used by them, it is part of their history.
      I think this says it much better than I could: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=aUrULTifMPc

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      1. I guess my misgivings are centred around the history of the building – which is no less chequered than lots of other historical sites – it became a ruin in the 1800s, all of the gargoyles were replaced 30 years ago, all of the statues inside were smashed during the French revolution… I’m sure there’s more. I suppose all I’m saying is that it’s not like a priceless artifact has gone – it has evolved, and it will evolve again.

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      2. I know the history of it. But. The wooden roof that has been totally destroyed was built with beams from primal forests more than 800 years ago and apparently we don’t at the moment have trees on our territory of the size that were cut in the 13th century so the roof may never be built exactly the same, it will always carry the mark of this era. I find that fact heartbreaking, god knows if we even have anyone with the skills to recreate that roof even with modern timber. That roof had stood for 800 years and it’s gone. All the work and the expertise that had gone into it…evaporated. We know one of the stained windows has survived but not sure about the damage done to the others, they were over 800 years old, how can they be replaced? It’s ok that you don’t feel the way I do, but to me this is a tragedy. Though I am so grateful the entire structure didn’t collapse, that’s what I was worried about yesterday – I would have been devastated.

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  3. Mi è dispiaciuto molto vedere le immagini in tv. Spero che tutta l’ Europa rinasca da questo triste evento. Un abbraccio. Soul

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  4. What are the great symbols of humanity through the course of human history? Notre Dame was a world heritage contributed by the great minds and strong backs of the French people who have led the vanguard of art, music, architecture, and literature for more than a millennium. There is no finer example of what gives humans their humanity but the lasting creations we leave to our future. My heart aches at this devastating loss but it is a way for all of us to prove we can be as grand of heart and soul as those before. All who understood and loved the Notre Dame, can support it’s recovery. We can show how this destruction cannot cast away that spirit that shows the greatest light of the soul. To depend solely on government is to depend on a hopeless dream. Governments cannot restore our humanity and the icons of our culture, this is for the people to do the same as it was the people who built Notre Dame. I hope our humanity will restore Notre Dame. Because, as you say, we cannot bear the loss.

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  5. I, too, had to turn away. I couldn’t watch the spire fall over and over. The news and its sensationalism is horrid. I never had the honor of visiting this beautiful cathedral. I’m so sorry, Nathalie. ❤

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  6. It may sound unbelievable but I tend to think it’s an indemonstrable sign from above for Macron or rather for the people of France (and for you as well, Nathalie, for I think Brexit is a necessary, urgent and emergency measure now for the British nation) to see at last how he (Macron) and others in the EU can mislead the citizens as to the “sincere and caring” intentions of all the governments towards their communities. One may recollect as well that a few days ago President Macron, for the reasons may be known only to him, welcomed a queer guy from Ukraine who is eager to be the presidential figure there no matter how low his talents are, though his ambitions standing high. And simultaneously Macron played up to the present President of Ukraine, who I do not see better or worse, on the same day. It is simply a political and global cynicism nowadays. But the signs are the indication of the presence of some higher powers than our inferior and faulty actions and interpretations. I may suspect what it’s all for but time will reveal in some latent or obvious manner this tangled succession. So far it wasn’t too far from the accuracy. Coincidences may happen, and the firemen could be slow and drowsy, and the official explanations and the blamings against others can be easily brought in, and the money can be quickly collected for the restoration, but the fact of the fire of the oldest Christian cathedral of France consecrated to the Virgin Mary just a week before the Easter can not be cancelled. Take care. I know that some opinions are not easy to accept or to agree with. This is a contemporary clash of the two ancient forces. I know my side. ~

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  7. I thought of you Nathalie, and my French blogging friends. What a terrible loss for the world, but especially for France. My heart broke as I watched this on the news. I’m so sorry for your loss.

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  8. It is sad to see the damage and also interesting to see rich people readily put up so much money for the repairs whilst all the poor of the world just keep scraping for a way to live.

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