The construction of the beautiful Gothic Cathedral, Notre Dame, “The Cathedral of Paris”, began during the reign of King Louis VII in 1163 AD and was completed in 1345 AD. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a worldwide Parisian icon. It was the location of some of the most important moments in the history of France and survived many wars including WWI and WWII. It has inspired the architecture and construction of many Catholic and Protestant Churches around the world. Notre Dame is the official seat of the Archbishop of Paris and contains much priceless art and many precious Christian artifacts and relics such as the Crown of Thorns. It is the main tourist attraction in Paris and attracts over 13 million visitors each year.
In 2001, my wife, Janeese, and I had the joy and privilege of visiting Notre Dame while we were in Paris doing a Christian Marriage Retreat. It was an incredibly moving experience to personally witness the majesty and beauty of this gothic icon. The shear size of it was amazing and the architecture was a wonder to behold, especially when you realize that it is almost 900 years old.
On the Monday of Holy Week this year (April 15, 2019) the iconic cathedral caught on fire. The Parisian firefighters eventually put out the blaze after 12 hours, but much damage was done. Thanks to several heroic Priests and many French volunteers, much of the precious and priceless artwork, artifacts and relics were saved including the Crown of Thorns.
Fortunately, much of the outer stone walls, the flying buttresses, the statues, the gigantic rose windows and two front towers were saved. There is much to be thankful for in the recent tragedy, and most importantly that no one was hurt or killed in the fire.
French President, Emmanuel Macron vowed to rebuild the badly burned cathedral and over 700 million dollars has already been raised to renovate and rebuild the beautiful Notre Dame. As millions of people around the world watched this iconic symbol of the Christian Church go up in flames, many believers and non-believers were moved to tears. Why? What did this fire at Notre Dame stir up within so many?
With the dramatic decline of Christianity in France, Europe and the Western World, perhaps the burning of Notre Dame stirred many to remember something they had long forgotten. The Christian faith has impacted the world in ways that no one can fully measure. All of us, believers and non-believers, have all benefitted from God’s grace exhibited in Jesus’ teachings, His death and His resurrection!
I believe that Revd. Dr. Isabelle Hamley, Chaplain to the Archbishop of Canterbury, shares a timely message for all of us in her reflections on the fire at Notre Dame. She gets to the heart of what is stirring so many to reflection in response to this fire.
“It was…deeply moving…to hear journalists groping for words they had almost forgotten—words that speak of faith and what faith had meant to [France] over the years. Many of them were trying to put into words the sense of connection they felt to the cathedral, how moved they were to hear hymns and prayers from Christians surrounding them, and find words that would nurture hope. This morning, journalists were tentatively using the word ‘miracle’ as they contemplated the picture of the inside of the cathedral, the cross illuminated from the side windows, still intact, and heard of the news that many windows had survived, and the organ maybe too. To hear these words spoken with awe and genuine interrogation is nothing short of a miracle—and it may be short lived. But as I listened, I realized that Notre-Dame had lived up to its destiny: it reminded a people of its past, and of the hope of new life we find at the foot of the cross.
And for me, this is the real question of the rebuilding. What is it we are rebuilding? What kind of vision will animate the endless years of work ahead? Will we listen to the memory of stones, and honour the God whose cross triumphed over destruction, fire and ashes? Notre-Dame held memories we had forgotten; will we accept God’s gift of memory, and reshape some of the distorted, incomplete stories we tell ourselves, so that we can move into a better future? I hope and pray that we do; and I believe that we can, because I believe in the God of Good Friday and of Easter Sunday, who ultimately holds all memory, all past and future in his hand.” – Isabelle Hamley
Yes, the fire at Notre Dame stirs in us to remember things many had long forgotten. Through the fire, smoke and ashes, the message of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection rings through the ages undaunted by time, ridicule or disbelief. Jesus Christ is and always will be the light and the hope of the world!
Notre Dame will be rebuilt and restored I have no doubt. And it will most likely become even more popular and cherished than ever before. I pray it will continue to point millions of visitors to the wonder and majesty of Jesus Christ!