Tuesday 16 April 2019

Notre Dame de Paris

Watching Notre Dame de Paris burn down over my computer was not at all like watching the Twin Towers fall across library television screens on 9/11.

I was saddened rather than horrified. Nobody died in the Notre Dame conflagration whereas while the Twin Towers fell viewers thought over ten thousand people were in them.  9/11 was the Hindenburg disaster x 1000 + terrorists.

Of course, the Twin Towers themselves were just modernist monstrosities, even if symbolic of the growing wealth of nations, whereas Notre Dame de Paris is a, if not the, symbol of Western Civilisation itself.

I have been to Notre Dame de Paris twice: once in 1999--and I don't remember much about that--and once three years ago or so, when I went on the Chartres Pilgrimage. I lost the Scottish pilgrim group outside the great cathedral, and so I wiggled in through the doors to find them. Once I was in, I soon gave up and just knelt by a group of French Girl Guides. The stone was cold and grey, Mass was very long, and the homily and speeches a reproof to my ill-maintained Canadian high school French. I had arrived late at night,  had had very little sleep, and had made myself a terrible breakfast in my hotel room.

It turns out my group wasn't in the Cathedral at all. There were so many Chartres pilgrims that thousands of them had to hear the Mass outside. The Scots had been, instead, allocated space in Chartres Cathedral at the end of the pilgrimage. Naturally I now think that was a very fortunate mistake on my part. Although my abiding memory of Notre Dame was discomfort, at least I worshipped there when it was whole.

It astonishes me that Notre Dame de Paris has lasted this long. But it is also amazing that it survived 1944 and not 2015. Watching Notre Dame burn, I kept thinking "410: the Burning and Sacking of Rome."  (This was a mantra I invented as a teenager to remember my parents' license plate number; after the trauma of Grade 10 Math I became next-door to numerically illiterate.)

The Burning and Sacking of Rome was worse than Notre Dame burning down, as horrible things happened to the Romans, not just the buildings. However, it ushered in the era in which Western Civilisation came its closest to collapsing, and watching Notre Dame burn was like seeing the physical manifestation of cultural trends I read and write about all day.

However, Rod Dreher's ultimates thoughts on the topic are more hopeful and happy than mine, so off you go to American Conservative to read them. Meanwhile, the only foolproof way to preserve Western Civilisation, which is to say Christendom in its Sunday best, is not in fragile buildings but in ourselves and our children and grandchildren, nieces and nephews, pupils and students.

Update: Here, also, is Michael Brendan Dougherty writing about the Repair Notre Dame fundraising campaign in 2017.

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