Thoughts on Notre Dame

Back in the dark ages I lived in Paris for several years. I had a number of favorite spots in the city: the Arc de Triumph where I sat and fed the pigeons, now forbidden. Sacré Coeur – the beautiful church in Montmarte – and Notre Dame.

I would take the bus from our home in the suburbs of Paris down to the cathedral. Notre Dame was huge, impressive, and slightly terrifying. When I walked inside the cathedral and sat in one of the pews the majesty of the structure overwhelmed me. I could feel the force of God, the sheer weight of God around me.

The church was begun in 1163 and took nearly 200 years to build. The fact that it is nearly 900 years old is awe-inspiring.

I would sit and simply absorb the atmosphere of Notre Dame. It was a working church. It still is. Parishioners would come and go, always genuflecting, always respectful. I wasn’t a Catholic. I was Presbyterian, but it didn’t matter. I was in awe of the exquisite beauty created by people in service to God. Sometimes I’d explore, following a whispering tour guide who led her troupe of tourists through those public areas not sequestered from view, but mostly I sat still and silent in that overwhelming cathedral.

History solemnifies me and I’ve never experienced a more impressive place than Notre Dame. I imagined all the pageantry that had happened there, all the hundreds of thousands of souls who had sat where I was sitting. The Crusaders prayed in the cathedral before beginning their pilgrimage. In 1804 Napoleon crowned himself emperor there. In the 18th century it was decided that Notre Dame would be the center of France, so all distances were measured from that point.

I wondered at the workmen, their families, the congregants who bragged that their church was Notre Dame. I wanted to know about the men who’d designed the buttresses. How long had the rose windows taken to construct? A hundred other questions always popped into my mind in a pre-internet era.

When I heard that Notre Dame was in flames I cried. I’m certain that my emotions were mirrored by thousands if not hundreds of thousands of people around the world. The cathedral survived the French Revolution, World War II, and countless other upheavals, including the Algerian riots and the recent political unrest in France.

Notre Dame represents more than history, in my humble opinion. It is the embodiment of the talent of countless artisans, men who worked tirelessly to create the statues on the outside of the building, the magnificent stained-glass windows, and the impressive, soaring ceilings – to mention only a few details. Notre Dame was filled with incredible works of art. We humans are fragile creatures, but we sometimes create beauty that lives beyond us, that represents the best of who we are. I think Notre Dame is one of those icons.

However, the fire is simply an indication that nothing is truly permanent, as much as we might want it to be.

I hope that the investigation about the fire will prove that it was an accident and that it wasn’t a gesture of spite and hatred. Or worse, religious intolerance.

8 thoughts on “Thoughts on Notre Dame”

  1. I’ve been to Paris and Notre Dame is awe inspiring. I hope they are able to repair the damage done to that beautiful church. When Mike and I saw it in flames on TV we were very saddened. Unfortunately Paris has changed since we were there in the 80’s and the city has had so much turmoil in the past six months that I can’t help but think it was arson. The fire started so they say five minutes after the doors were locked. I genuinely hope that I am wrong about that.

  2. I was 16 the first time I went to Notre Dame and 43 and 61 when I was there again, although I didn’t go through it again. I have a degree in History too. I am totally heartbroken at what happened yesterday. The majesty of the church, the invaluable historic objects and paintings, I can’t comprehend it. When I heard that they weren’t sure they could save Notre Dame, I thought my heart would break. I heard today that many of the artifacts have been saved and the walls are still intact. The golden cross above the altar is a beacon of hope. I pray that it’ll be restored to its former glory

  3. Beautifully said. I’m so glad I got to visit once even if it was over 45 years ago. You described what is hard to describe. I can’t imagine that there is anyone who didn’t feel saddened at such a horrifying sight.

  4. There was a time when Catholic and Episcopal churches were constructed in the shape of a cross. I always believed that was so the artisans and artists who worked on the structures would keep in mind that they were working on behalf of God.

    I believe that much of the beauty we find in places like Notre Dame was created by people who felt all the beauty that God has created in the world. Even those who created the gargoyles on Notre Dame were working on behalf of God.

    I have never been to Paris, but I know the history. I know the Allies in WWII determined that there would not be bombing in order to preserve the beauty. I know that damage done to Notre Dame in the past was repaired.

    I also feel certain that the damage done this time will be repaired. No, it will never be exactly the same, but it will be restored to represent the love of God and God’s love for man.

    People knelt in the streets and sang hymns. People all over the world recognize the beauty and importance of the structure. I hope that everyone remembers the importance of what was represented there.

    As disappointed and cynical I become at times, I still believe in the goodness of humanity. I still believe that there are more “good” people in the world than the others. And I must believe that we will not lose such a treasure and reminder of good.

    We need that.

  5. Watching it burn, all that history lost. I cried like so many other people. I feel such sadness. It belonged to all of us, what a loss.

  6. I agree with your thoughts of Notre Dame. When working in the City of London I used to go to St Paul’s for part of my lunch hour

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