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As Long as We Remember...

April 17, 2019

Tragedy in Paris

Ken Kellar

Notre Dame was burning. As night fell on Paris Monday, it appeared the entire center of the cathedral was an inferno. The twin towers at one end appeared to be the only part of the massive building that were not engulfed in flame but they too were at risk as the fires burned into the night.


A massive grid of scaffolding hung above the church and appeared to be melting away and likely to drop onto the church, or into the church since by night the huge roof of Notre Dame was gone. Only a couple water streams could be seen with the spray reaching only half way up the towering structure and flames. Too little, too late it appeared.


My mind spins with the many ways I can view this fire: religiously, historically, financially, architecturally and culturally.


Religiously, the church of Christ resides in the hearts of those who believe. Christ’s good news relies on no building, nor any relic. As painful as it is to see such a magnificent shrine to the Lord collapse, Christianity suffers no harm.


“Finished” in 1260 (a building like Notre Dame is really never finished) it is probably one of the oldest functioning buildings on the planet. Sure the pyramids are thousands of years older, but they are piles of rock, not functioning, useful structures. Palm Sunday mass was held the day prior to the conflagration within the walls of Notre Dame.


Architecturally, the builders of Notre Dame used ancient building materials, stone and wood, while introducing several structural innovations needed to allow such huge open interior spaces.


Notre Dame was vandalized and desecrated over the centuries. In 1548 some arrogant Huguenots destroyed statues to show their opposition of “idolatry.”


The French Revolution declared a national religion of atheism and converted the cathedral to a warehouse. Ironically it was the tyrant Napoleon Bonaparte who returned the cathedral to the Catholic Church. The Nazi occupation of Paris seemed to have little impact on the church. It is currently state-owned, but church-maintained.


Notre Dame has had its ups and downs and fell into extreme disrepair requiring major renovations which were inspired by Victor Hugo’s 1831 The Hunchback of Notre Dame.


I can only guess at the cultural impact this fire has had. Some of the first things that come to mind when Paris is mentioned are the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame and the Louvre, three things that have nothing to do with any living Frenchman or even the last several generations. Culturally, is Notre Dame really much more than an extravagant work of art and a tourist attraction? How important really is it to the French atheist, agnostic, or Muslim?


Before moving to what should be done, I can’t help but think of the Reichstag fire of 1933. It was most likely started by Hitler’s henchmen but blamed on a Dutch communist. Regardless of the true cause, Hitler exploited the event brilliantly to increase his power.


With France’s extreme Muslim issues and terrorist attacks as well as the beneficiaries’ of Western Civilization growing contempt for Christianity, I cannot stop myself from considering the possibilities that the fire was not a renovation accident. However, with the major damage, it is unlikely the cause will ever be known.


For my own peace of mind, I will assume it was an accident until evidence convinces me otherwise. Even if foul play was involved, I cannot leave blameless those trusted with the stewardship of the ancient structure.


As Notre Dame burned, America’s Cardinal Timothy Dolan stood outside New York’s magnificent Saint Patrick’s Cathedral speaking of the Paris tragedy. He spoke of the susceptibility of Saint Patrick’s to such an event due to similar construction. However, he proudly described modern efforts to protect Saint Patrick’s such as installation of a water misting system among the wooden rafters, the spraying of fire retardant coatings as well as routine fire department inspections.


Cardinal Dolan, true to Christian philosophy, downplayed the mystical aspects of the cathedral structures in the world while emphasizing the important works that occur inside these churches.


What should France do? What should the Catholic Church do? Generations could make careers as masons and carpenters, piecing the cathedral back together using traditional methods. A reasonable facsimile could be reconstructed using steel beams and fireproof materials. Or, at the other extreme, the idea of the magnificent cathedral could be abandoned and the prime real estate sold to the highest bidder.


The French government could fully fund a reconstruction, perhaps inciting resentment among the unfaithful. Or the mettle of the French people (and the world’s) could be tested and demonstrated by reliance on private donations of money and labor. A Frenchman could become invested in his capital, its icons and perhaps his church, in ways unimaginable without this tragedy.


I feel the decision to replace or reconstruct Notre Dame and the way it is approached (state/church/community) will be very telling of the state of the French nation. Regardless, the planet suffered a great loss on April 15.


I hope to witness a great victory of spirit and nation that will continue to sustain and grow my pride in the achievements of Western Civilization.


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