I woke up today(Monday) fully intending to blog about something else, but a friend had sent me a message on Facebook about the spire of Notre Dame de Paris collapsing because of a fire. Stunned, I did a quick search and saw a picture, and sure enough, the cathedral was on fire, the roof gone, the spire gone. What will remain, essentially, is the shell of a building, if that. In one day, a cathedral that has been the landmark in Paris for over 850 years, is gone, and I lack the words to express what I am feeling, and I suspect that pales to what the French and Parisians are feeling. In its way, Notre Dame, situated as it is - or was - on its island in the Seine, was a kind of icon of the whole idea of the Ile-de-France, the "island of France," the political and cultural heart of the nation. Just a few days ago, there was another fire in another famous Parisian church, St. Sulpice de Paris, though this did not, so far as I know, destroy that church, famous for being the home of the largest Cavaille-Coll church organ in France, and the instrument that Charles-Marie Widor presided at for over sixty years. Apparently, everything in Notre Dame is destroyed - the art, the fixtures, its own Cavaille-Coll organ... everything. It is doubly sad because this fire broke out and destroyed the landmark cathedral at the start of Holy Week in the western churches. According to some reports as I write this, they were able to rescue some of the relics, art work, and the reserved sacrament. Everything else is gone.
Notre Dame is iconic, as iconic as the churches and cathedrals of Chartres, Reims, or Cologne.
The earliest reports about the fire indicate that it was started by accident, due to renovation work that was being done, but it is unclear exactly how. The same was said of the fire just a few days ago that broke out in St. Sulpice. As I write, the Paris prosecutor has promised an investigation, which, of course, is normal under such circumstances, but it does raise questions, and if there is foul play involved, I suspect that we'll never know the whole story. But there is a story here, and it's this:
The symbolism, and timing, are what most compel about the images of the burning cathedral; in a way, I cannot help think of it as an icon of what is happening to Europe, and the West in general, as the leadership of the West, and many people, not only are intent upon turning their backs upon one of the things that made western civilization what it is, but actually destroying it altogether. Like many I cannot help but entertain the suspicion that if one wanted to strike a symbolic blow not just against France, but western civilization itself, one could not choose a more appropriate structure than Notre Dame. But deliberate or accident, the symbolism remains, and as saddened as I am about it, and as saddened as no doubt many people in France and around the world are about it, one can rest assured that there are some who, in the black void of their hearts, are rejoicing.
For many years I've been saying "own the culture," and if there is a message in this event, it's perhaps as simple as "use it, or lose it," guard your traditions, or watch them be consumed. What will rise from the ashes of Notre Dame? Will it be another cathedral, done in reverence to that tradition that built it in the first place? Or will it be some modernist monstrosity of a monument with a bronze plaque commemorating a "world historical site" and the vapid and empty cliches that always accompany such things.
Time will tell of course, but if there is anything to take away from this, I suspect it is this: we have been warned.
Tomorrow (Tuesday), there will be no blog. It would seem inappropriate as the churches of France are being vandalized in the most barbarous fashion, by people who, as I say, have empty, black hearts.
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