The fire at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris is an incalculable cultural loss for all of the human race.
For those of the religious faith, this is an even more personal and spiritual loss. A structure, assailed yet more or less unfazed by centuries of human progress and conflict, now lies in ruins. A structure that had humble beginnings – with servants expending 10 generations of toil to raise it from the ground up. A structure with windows designed to spread the gospel to those unable to read by offering a stained-glass picture book of key moments in Scripture. A structure which witnessed the French revolution. A structure which stood sentinel as the closest thing this world has ever seen to a force of pure evil marched through the streets of Paris.
A structure equally apt to host an emperor’s coronation as it was to host a peasant's baptism. A structure that has been around long enough to have credible claim to be one of the places where modern musical notation began, yet still contemporary enough to be the point from which all distances to Paris are measured.
And here, at the advent of Holy Week, 800-plus years of history lies devastated.
And yet, much like the despair of the Passion yielding to the glory of the resurrection, there is hope in the darkest hour. The stone structure remains intact. Irreplaceable relics … those which many believe are a piece of the true cross, a nail from the crucifixion, and the crown of thorns … are said to have been saved through some unknown-but-to-God ratio of divine intervention and human bravery.
Though there is no doubt that some irreplaceable artwork and craftsmanship has been lost, photos from within show that some things remain. That it's better than it could have been. That it can be resurrected.
The people of Paris are not unlike the structure itself. Gutted, but still standing. The night of the fire, through the night, have gathered. They stood … they kneeled … they prayed … they embraced … they sang.
They sang in solidarity and hope. They sang to fill the silence left behind by the bells of Notre Dame. Those bells … bells which have tolled in times of war … in times of peace … in times of celebration … in times of grief – those bells remain. And someday, somehow, against all odds, through yet another herculean effort, those bells will toll again.
“To the big bells as loud as the thunder
To the little bells soft as a psalm
And some say the soul of
the city's the toll of
the bells of Notre Dame.”
Jackie Steele visited Notre Dame in Paris several years ago. A broadcaster in Newnan for 14 years, he now lives in Florida.