Yesterday morning, April 15th, I was stunned by the news that the Cathedral of Notre Dame had burned late the previous afternoon. The 800-year-old cathedral, anchor of French history and an emblem of beauty throughout the world, suffered enormous damage as the roof collapsed in flames and smoke. A cry went up from the thousands watching from the banks of the Seine as the steeple, its cross outlined against the sky, fell like a dagger into the blaze.
A “human chain” formed of passersby was able to rescue many of the sacred objects, especially the crown of thorns, said to be the one Christ wore during his crucifixion and remembered on Good Friday throughout the world. The roof, which was totally destroyed, can no longer be replaced by French trees; the enormous beech are long gone from French forests. Whether they can be replaced by trees from the rest of the world is yet to be seen.
The medieval masons who designed and built the stone buttresses prevented the upper levels of the cathedral from collapsing.
Notre Dame has always seemed to me a dark, brooding and august female presence presiding over Paris. Her strength is drawn from centuries of changes, large and small, the accumulation of articles of faith, and the visits of thirteen million tourists a year, believers and nonbelievers, all drawn by the mystery of her presence. And, of course, her strength is drawn from the old woman kneeling at the side altars, some of whom lighted the candles that continued to burn during the blaze.
We need her so much in this time of unending violence—domestic, national and international—to remind us of the steadfast presence of women’s strength.
And she will rise again.