Fri. Sep 30th, 2022

On April 15, 2019 in Paris, Notre Dame, the church renowned for its two bell towers and stunning architecture, caught fire. Upon noticing smoke and fire spread to the roof, roughly “400 French firefighters” were deployed to put out the fire, according to Joshua Berlinger’s article from the Cable News Network (CNN).

While the fire burned, Emmanuel Macron, the current president of France “delayed a long-awaited speech addressing the French populist political movement,” according to Dorothy Wickenden’s brief article from The New Yorker. With political upheaval ongoing, unity over Notre Dame drove the people of Paris together.

Based on the current damage, stated by Christine Hauser from The New York Times, “gone is the cathedral’s soaring, delicate 300 foot spire.” Known to many observers as “The Forest,” the attic is dated in the twelfth century. The report goes on to state that the main architect responsible in renovating Notre Dame “misjudged how quickly a flame could spread.” In effect, onlookers and tourists watched in shock, awe and despair as Notre Dame burned. For them, Notre Dame was “the heart of Paris.”

Despite the loss of the attic, there were holy relics saved from the fire such as the Crown of Thorns and a bronze nail —  believed to be proof of Jesus’s existence. Also saved from the fire were historical artifacts, such as the organ and the famous rose glass windows. “Most, if not all the artwork survived,” said French History Professor Wayne Hanley at West Chester University.

Currently, there is an ongoing  investigation in regards to what caused the fire. In a Central Broadcasting Station (CBS) article, a “’computer glitch’” may have been one cause. Another theory is  human neglect. “All signs suggest it was accidental,” says Professor Hanley. “[However], it is still speculation.”

With the fire averted, what does this mean for French citizens and tourists now that one of their valued treasures seemingly decreased its historical value? Also, what does this mean for WCU students upon hearing this incident?

Father Tom Gardner, pastor of WCU Newman Center, states, “it is connected to the heritage of the church and it influenced Western culture, particularly in Paris.” Father Tom points to three important reasons for this influence. “The first is it draws travelers to Paris. For the second, it gives Paris character, since it was [there] for so long. Lastly, from a faith perspective, it shows concrete manifestation of Christ and his impact on the people.”

According to Professor Hanley, Notre Dame is “a cultural symbol. It is much more than a religious institution.” Regarding architecture, Professor Hanley recalls seeing Notre Dame’s flying buttresses as “awe-inspiring and beautiful.” In addition, Professor Hanley states, “all distances were measured from a marker in front of Notre Dame,” which meant that Notre Dame was indeed the heart of Paris.

In Notre Dame’s recorded history, “There were fires before, but [they were] not extensive,” says Hanley. “The spire [for instance] was not the original spire. In the nineteenth century, Notre Dame was in disrepair, which inspired Victor Hugo to write Hunchback of Notre Dame. It brought awareness and a huge project to restore [Notre Dame].”

Even in the seventeenth century, Notre Dame needed assistance. Napoleon Bonaparte abided in 1801 by “signing a Concordat-an agreement with the Pope” to recognize Catholicism, according to an article written by Michael Rapport from The Conversation. In effect, Notre Dame’s restoration became a key move in Napoleon’s coronation as Emperor in 1804.   

Regarding the issue of France’s rebuilding the cathedral, Father Tom asks, “Are we willing to invest our energy, effort and talent to rebuilding the church in an intangible sense?” Donations have been forthcoming from wealthy patrons toward this effort; yet, with donations pouring, what would France create in its place?

As it stands, Notre Dame can prove to be a moral and architectural challenge to rebuilding the memory of the building. Only time can tell if Norte Dame would stick to its roots or modernize toward the twenty-first century.

Nicholas Bartelmo is a third-year student majoring in history.

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