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L'incendie de Notre-Dame


Like everyone, I saw the fire ravaging through the rooftops of the Notre Dame in real time on my phone. Flames ripped through the 856-year-old medieval wooden roof known as “the forest,” quickly desecrating one of the most iconic structures in the world. From there, photos of the fire made its way throughout the Twitterverse and thousands prayed that there was no one harmed.

Unlike the recent, horrific bombings throughout Sri Lanka’s churches that happened on Easter, there were no casualties. And yet the fire seemed to prompt a global, collective mourning, for loss of the startling, existential sort. Notre Dame de Paris took 182 years to erect. Generations of families had come and gone without ever seeing its completion. Situated in the heart of Paris, Notre Dame serves as a geographical beacon, a symbol of the city and also of its peoples’ endurance, having survived two world wars, the French Revolution, and the Hundred Years’ War. An estimated 13 million visitors tour Notre Dame every year, making this site accessible to so many. But why did anyone feel connected to its destruction so intimately?

My visit to the cathedral was somewhat of an oversight throughout my European journey. I did not experience the beatific vision on the many trips I took to Notre Dame. Rather, I returned over and over to be in the presence of an unfathomable existence, to witness a miracle in a tangible way — the kind of awe-inspiring grandeur reminiscent of feeling saved.The extent of what has been lost is abstruse. Notre Dame is a space where Napoleon had once been coronated, that with its rose windows, portals, transepts, or the 18th-century 8,000 pipe Great Organ, commands you — whether or not you answer — to believe. I did not answer, but I could stand in that holy place, skimming the edge of a familiar, faraway joy.

Everything but the spire and the roof have been salvaged. It's a common process for cathedrals to be destroyed and restored over the years to preserve the foundation... so optimistically, it can be rebuilt again. President Macron hopes to revive the cathedral within five years; others estimate that it will require a decade or two, meaning that it is likely some will not live to see its completion. The most sacred idea we may all have shared was that everyone of us held a common memory of this beloved place in our hearts.

To witness its destruction reminds us of personal reckonings and how holy places can urge us to access a sense of wonderment.