Watching reports of the conflagration at Paris’ 850-year-old Notre-Dame Cathedral just a few days before the holiest day in the Christian calendar has reminded me of the fragility of our physical world. Known as a place of pilgrimage and prayer, Notre-Dame has often been referred to as the beating heart of Paris, and the building and its medieval art, holy relics and architecture has always felt to me like it was designed to last an eternity. How terribly sad and devastating to see such an iconic house of worship face near destruction in less than a 24-hour period – especially when you think that it took nearly 200 years to build.
While 21st Century France remains a predominately Roman Catholic country, in today’s secular age, just 10 percent of its citizens attend mass on any given Sunday. That being said, the physical endurance of Notre-Dame and all it stands for has clearly loomed large over many critical events in the nation’s history, and its Gothic gargoyles have stood guard over the city since the Middle Ages.
The cathedral managed to survive the French Revolution and two world wars, and has endured previous periods of decay and disrepair. When Victor Hugo published his classic, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, in 1831, the cathedral was falling apart and had become deeply unpopular among Parisians. By placing the Gothic building at the center of his story, Hugo helped galvanize public opinion about Notre Dame’s value as part of France’s cultural heritage and its need for restoration.
In contemplating this sad period, I’m reminded of how no matter our faith, we’re inspired to feel a sense of the divine when gathered together with others in soaring settings as grand and beautiful as this one was and will be again. So, whatever your faith, say a prayer for those affected by this tragic loss, and for the fleetingness of life and of the people and places we hold dear. Embrace others. Sing out loud. Dance. Go stand by the ocean and smell the salt and laugh as the waves wash up on the shore and spray your face. Live as if today is your last day, and if you wake up tomorrow, say thank you and do it all over again. Never lose your hunger to know more and experience as much as you can in this life.
One other observation: It’s a paradox of human nature, but it’s times like this where we find ourselves standing shoulder to shoulder with others with whom we too often disagree in our everyday lives. I was moved at the sight of thousands of Parisians gathered on their knees. Many were in tears, looking on in stunned silence while paying an emotional homage to what’s been lost.
I’m also encouraged at the outcry of pledges pouring in from all over the world to restore this “Grand Dame” to her former glory and rightful place in the City of Lights. If you’ve been one of the 13 million annual visitors to Notre-Dame, share you own thoughts about your experience, and how you interpret the news of the devastation in this shared world landmark of such historic, cultural and religious significance.
© Tyra Manning 2019