I will never forget the tragedy of the fire that burned Notre Dame in 2019. At the time, it seemed that the loss of Notre Dame was like losing an icon that should and would rise again from the ashes. Although I am not Catholic, Notre Dame represents our faith regardless of how we worship. At the time of the devastating fire, I wrote a blog about what it meant to me and people around the world, and here were some of the thoughts I had about the incident at the time that still resonates with me deeply today.
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.
Known as a place of pilgrimage and prayer, Paris’ 850-year-old 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. The physical endurance of Notre Dame – which took 200 years to build – 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.
Given its rich historical significance – as well as its deep spiritual significance to so many people around the world – I was relieved and elated to learn that French President Macron recently announced that Notre Dame will be restored identically to its original historic integrity. It comes as no surprise that there were murmurings of possible modern additions to the structure, such as a pool, rooftop garden, or “ultramodern” spire. Such additions could have generated even more tourism than usual, which could have potentially brought in huge sums of money.
However, I think it goes without saying that adding a massive pool or sleek rooftop garden would have grotesquely compromised the integrity of this landmark that, for hundreds of years, has been a defining edifice on the Paris landscape, and has been a familiar beacon of spiritual comfort to people around the world. Nothing can erase the history that lives in every beam, nail, or pane of stained glass in what remains of Notre Dame. However, I feel that altering even a portion of the structure during its restoration would send the message that our values are shifting, that there is no sense of wonder left for relics that we have kept from the past or, perhaps, that we do not value the past itself.
When we make efforts to “revamp” historic sites, homes, places of worship, and other landmarks, there is a fine line between preserving and restoring in a way that is amenable to modern life and cheapening these landmarks by turning them into products whose sole purpose is to make money. In my opinion, this is a line that we need to steer clear of, especially with our most precious treasures from the past.
It is heartening to see that although we do live in a time when technology is advancing at lightspeed, our attention spans are waning, and new businesses seem to grow out of the ground overnight, we still understand the value of preserving tangible pieces of our past. It is these cherished remnants that allow us to keep our history close, while also helping us to visualize the endless possibilities for the future.
What are some of the historic places, artifacts, or landmarks that are most significant to you?
© Tyra Manning 2020