Optimism in Destruction: Notre Dame’s Fire
Colossal. That’s one adjective for it.
The droning of my professor’s lecture melted into the steady buzz of the crowd as I stared in amazement at the building.
It was the epitome of Gothic architecture with pointed spires reaching for the sky and artwork covering every crevice of it. An organized mess of complex structural supports jutted into the horizon, making the building look intimidating but mesmerizing. The massive rose windows stained depicted religious scenes and figures filtered vibrant light into the dark space. Sounds echoed throughout the building, bouncing off the tall and narrow interior, sounding like a cacophony of quiet whispers. In the midst of chaotic crowds, an inner tranquility was felt amongst everyone and the smell of incense singed our noses. This cathedral was the emblem of Paris.
And it was gone.
I gasped in horror as the magnificent towers of Notre Dame fell in heaps of fire. I can recall the same reaction escaping from fellow peers who watched the trending video, undoubtedly feeling the dread coil in their stomachs.
On Monday, April 15th, the news of Notre Dame burning sent a massive shockwave worldwide. Thousands of onlookers stood by the banks of the Seine and witnessed the fiery incident as the sun continued to set over the famous Parisian skyline. Fortunately, no one was hurt during this event.
Officials were baffled at the cause of the fire with many speculating that it may be an act of terror but, as of now, it is believed that it was completely accidental. The cathedral’s rector stated that the severity of the fire may have been due to a computer glitch but a short circuit initially set the church ablaze. The fire alarm went off at 6 p.m. but, due to the computer bug, showed the fire in the wrong area and delayed the entire process.
The French newspaper, Le Parisien, believes that the origin of the fire was at the bottom of the large spire within the elevator. However, since Notre Dame’s stony exterior is supported by centuries old oak beams and easily traps oxygen within its high interiors, it fed the fire thoroughly and quickly. Further investigation still needs to be done and the true cause of the fire will hopefully be revealed in the coming weeks.
Though Notre Dame has never faced such a tragedy as this, it has a famously turbulent past in French history. The cathedral took over 200 years to truly complete, with construction beginning in 1163 and ending in 1345 during the rule of King Louis VII. In modern times, the nearly 800-year-old cathedral is declared the emblem of France but there were multiple times where the famous structure could have ceased to exist. Notre Dame seemed to experience a cycle of destruction and reconstruction.
After its initial creation and the crowning of royalty like King Henry VI, the church was often seen as a “relic of the past,” facing a lack of maintenance after the Renaissance period and onwards. Notably, during the French Revolution, the building was looted, damaged and used as a warehouse for food and other non religious paraphernalia. It was not until Napoleon’s self-coronation and Victor Hugo’s Hunchback of Notre Dame that the building was restored to its former glory – becoming the symbol of Paris.
There is still hope to repair the damages done by the fire. The entire structure has been stabilized and workers have eliminated all risks of the edifice walls falling. Additionally, many of the relics and artworks have been saved by authorities. With this terrible event, optimism still runs high amongst those who deeply care for the monument with an onslaught of donations and President Macron’s promise of rebuilding the cathedral in five years.
To some, the incident might seem superficial or trivial — especially since it was an accidental fire and no one was harmed. But to many, even those outside of Paris, it is the destruction of history. Notre Dame not only stands for the culture or religion of a country but it is a feat that marks humanity, being one of the largest surviving Gothic structures of its time. It is the outcome of centuries of work, centuries of interaction and centuries of influences – a building that is a living time capsule which simultaneously holds the past and present in a single space.
A cathedral such as this one should be preserved and protected for generations to come. We can only hope for its safe reconstruction and enduring integrity.