Thoughts On Notre Dame

I suspect you need to be in a very small minority to have missed the fire in Notre Dame this week. There has been a lot spoken about it: the bravery and skill of the fire services in their operation to save as much as they could; the ways in which a reconstruction might be undertaken; how long and how much; how it started.

There have been philosophical points debated, too. Why is this building deemed so important? Why spend a fortune rebuilding basically a large shed (however beautiful) when there are more compelling places to put the money? Why do people cry at a building burning?

And there are as many answers as there are people aware of the issue, I suspect. Indeed the question of the money that will be spent to restore this edifice is difficult. Millions, possibly upwards of a billion Euros will be needed. How many mouths fed, water cleansed, backs clothed, minds broadened? It feels a little trite to say the money would simply not be found for these other causes, however meritorious, true though that patently is.

But still, behind comes the bigger why question. Why does it matter so?

And reading Chelsea Owens’ blog post here answered the question for me. History.

It’s because history matters to us. This church has towered over France for centuries, at first physically and then in the National psyche. People have wandered its interior and been stilled into thoughts they might not otherwise have had; they have heard the bells and been transported to other places, given hope and had their spirits raised; eyes have stared at the exterior and a sense of place, of being present in the watcher’s now has enveloped that person in ways other buildings can never achieve; the Parisian and thus French skyline has had Notre Dame at its centre, a very physical representation of a nation and while ‘Nation’ means so many different things to different people, to each person that building has been part of their embodiment, their understanding; countless pairs of feet have tramped the narrow stairs and forest of wooden beams to stand next to those otherworldly gargoyles and look out and remember they are part of something bigger, stretching above and beyond and they will remember where they were when they sensed that larger whole.

The thing about Notre Dame, its beauty and architectural wonderment to oneside, is its longevity, its constancy and its solidity. It reminds us that we are bit players in the full sweep of the tide that has been, is and will be humanity. We know, not by being told but simply because of the stunning wonder when we first see this icon that dozens, hundreds, millions of pairs of eyes, like ours have seen this, been moved and moved on. We are connected to their lives by that shared sight, something ineffable and timeless.

I wrote this, as a comment to Chelsea’s thought provoking post

‘History gives us a context and a setting as well as a sense of flow, of being part of the human continuum. It’s not just the standing on shoulders of giants thing, but also an agglomeration of the humdrum that has paved the way to the now in the same way that we become the future’s paving, part of the foundations that stop us floating, give us some anchors from which we can rise and break away – or sometimes be weighed down by.’

The fire, therefore, represents the risk of that flow stopping, or being broken. We need our histories to run, overlapping, parallel and divergent though they will be at various times but always continuing. By looking back from where we’ve come, we can also look forward and know there is a place we are going to, although we cannot know where it is and what it will look like. That can be frightening as well as exciting. And while we contemplate that dichotomy, we can look on the Notre Dames of this world and take comfort that they are there and have been and will be.

And that’s why those special buildings, this building in flames rips at something visceral and makes us want to cry. It is as if we are being asked to consider, as we watch the potential loss of this building, if history itself matters, if keeping the past alive is relevant. And these many tears give us the answer, and for that I am grateful.

About TanGental

My name is Geoff Le Pard. Once I was a lawyer; now I am a writer. I've published four books - Dead Flies and Sherry Trifle, My Father and Other Liars, Salisbury Square and Buster & Moo. In addition I have published three anthologies of short stories and a memoir of my mother. More will appear soon. I will try and continue to blog regularly at geofflepard.com about whatever takes my fancy. I hope it does yours too. These are my thoughts and no one else is to blame. If you want to nab anything I post, please acknowledge where it came from.
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60 Responses to Thoughts On Notre Dame

  1. Clara says:

    I understand those thoughts. 🌸 However a place of worship that brings people together inspires charity. So this is mostly where donations are given for the poor and charities receiving donations in order to help as many as possible. Worldwide charities are also organisations from religious giving. I don’t personally feel we need churches in order to give, but like it or not most donations recieved to assist charities here and abroad are donations by Laity that attend a place of worship. 🌸 🌸 🌸

    Liked by 1 person

    • TanGental says:

      I’ve not seen statistics about charitable giving and faith but you may be right. This far, limiting it to this event it is corporate donations that are the biggest which isn’t surprising I suppose.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. All the donations and it seems nothing from the Vatican even though it’s a Catholic Church admittedly owned by the state but that hasn’t stopped all the other donors. I am forced to question your estimate to rebuild at a billion when all that seems to be necessary is a bit of a clean up and a new roof. I may have over simplified things here but I know whatever the cost it will seem like an awful lot of money. Let’s hope they replace the roof as it was and don’t try to put some modern interpretation on and spoil the look of the place. Good luck to them.

    Liked by 1 person

    • The cathedral belongs to the French state. The Catholic church is merely its beneficiary.

      The entire infrastructure needs to be inspected, as there may be damage to mortar holding up stonework. It’s a whole lot more than just “a bit of a clean-up and a new roof.”

      Liked by 2 people

    • TanGental says:

      A billion is a guess based on nothing more than how much these things always cost. Happy if it costs less though I’d not be surprised if there’s a lot more structural work than we yet know given the heat etc. I’m never against some new elements but great care is needed if that’s part of it.

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  3. Well done, Geoff. It is the history that is important. There is a spirit of humanity that Notre Dame represents. If you think of all the events that happened in and near her doors the question of rebuild becomes moot indeed.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. I agree that history matters and that it should be restored. I also agree that similar amounts of money could be made available for other worthy causes, such as you mention, if the billionaire donors chose – but they don’t (or if they didn’t spend so much time keeping their tax bills down). I suppose saving an iconic building is more prestigious for them. That’s my cynical take.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Violet Lentz says:

    Brilliantly articulated, Geoff. Of course here in the USA, we’d probably say, “it was time for a new one anyway..” and build something that bore no resemblance.. We are such a sentimental people. We can afford to be. We have virtually no history, because we are forever tearing things down and building something different.. If that isn’t a catch 22 I don’t know what is…

    Liked by 1 person

  6. You asked all the questions I asked in trying to understand what exactly happened. I know I love the old architecture so much more than the new boxes everyone is building these days. As for the money going to needier causes, money is fluid and as it goes into the hands of those that rebuild it, it will continue on back into the flow of the economy. Everyone will benefit from the flow. Hopefully, it will go back to where it can help all those needs you mentioned. Thanks for enlightening me.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Widdershins says:

      Unfortunately not everyone will benefit from the flow … the greater percentage of the money will end up where it always ends up when dealing with projects of this sort, lining the pockets of already well-lined pockets. The building will be rebuilt, and a great deal of good will come of it, but make no mistake the vultures are already circling. At a really base level there are already warnings going out for people to beware of donation scams.

      Liked by 2 people

      • TanGental says:

        I try to steer a course that, while excepting a level of human duplicity is nearly always somewhere about, there is also more than enough good too. So if it seems ok then I still give or help or whatever. Many people tell me not to give to the homeless I see in London. It feeds their habit, they aren’t really in need, you can give to a charity…. but if that person there looks desperate I give, I talk, I try and remember they are human too. Maybe I get scammed. Hey ho. I agree a level of cautious cynicism isn’t a bad thing but not if it stops me giving at all..

        Liked by 1 person

      • Nothing ever changes, does it. The good continue trying to do good, and the vultures circle looking for a free meal. ;( I’ll never stop trying to see the good though.

        Liked by 2 people

      • TanGental says:

        Yep, there’s good and bad and indifferent. Personally I defer to cockup more than conspiracy to explain most controversial behaviours and that way give the benefit of a lot of doubts. It’s more forgiving too

        Liked by 1 person

      • Widdershins says:

        Me either. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  7. Your perspective makes total sense. I agree when you say, “It’s because history matters to us…. History gives us a context and a setting as well as a sense of flow, of being part of the human continuum.”

    From my view across the Atlantic, the Notre Dame fire is also symbolic of how far removed the French, Europeans, and humanity worldwide have come from our ideals embodied in the grandeur of the Notre Dame Cathedral.

    Like

    • TanGental says:

      Taking the UK as an example we have hundreds, thousands of old buildings built with skill, love, faith and not a little cash over the centuries. We spend an enormous sum annually on their upkeep, money that might be spent on other projects that would improve the condition of many. You might a make a case for saying that some attract visitors and that generates wealth in the economy which supports many and there could be a cost:benefit analysis done. But for the vast majority the sums simply wouldn’t add up. And yet as a people we want our heritage maintained and not left to wither away. It’s a complex area for sure.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. willowdot21 says:

    Yes indeed Geoff history is important to who we are. But I still feel people should come before bricks and mortar. That is not to say how sad I was by this fire. It will be fixed, look at Yorkminster and Windsor Castle they recovered . Buildings hold their resonance of history as long as even a few stones or bricks are left… I truly think the real miricale is that no one died . 💜

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    • TanGental says:

      Very well said. There’s an interesting debate to be had about all our old churches, built with what were at the time eye watering sums of money that, today, we’d say should be spent on the people; back then they’d have said it was by providing a physical representation of their faith. So should we continue to fund their upkeep?

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      • willowdot21 says:

        I don’t know the answer to that question Geoff. The wealth held by the Catholic church, the Vatican alone could wipe out a third countrie’s debt alone. I don’t want to sound dramatic but I bleed inside when I see people and young and old suffering. The past is all around us sadly nothing has changed. 💜

        Like

      • TanGental says:

        I see things rather differently in that things have changed and overall for the better. It isn’t necessarily a commonly held belief and of course there are many things that are wrong and we are still quite capable of sending our species to hell in a handcart; but there are fewer peopel as a proportion of the whole in absolute poverty, many diseases that sued to kill don’t for a large number of the population, more people and especially women are educated than ever before, there are fewer wars… I agree and understand there are major issues with inequalities in western nations and between western nations and others and the climate change issue is a real worry – but man’s ingenuity to solve its many problems has yet to be found wanting. I will, I hope, always have hope!

        Like

      • willowdot21 says:

        I am pleased you have hope Geoff. I am not brushing you off but I need sleep. I just need to escape a will. Tomorrow I will ponder your answer. Be well be you be happy to 💜

        Liked by 1 person

      • TanGental says:

        Absolutely. There’s no one answer and we none of us know what will be. It all depends on how we want to view the evidence. The important thing whether we think things are better, worse, on an uptick or down, is to keep trying to make it better and never give up trying to improve.

        Like

      • willowdot21 says:

        Yes I agree Geoff, you have it in a nutshell, it’s all attitudes. I hope I can keep positive and making sure I am doing all I can . Anyway Happy Easter 💜

        Liked by 1 person

  9. trifflepudling says:

    And of course it is literally translated as Our Lady, a very powerful image in the Catholic faith. It is a She, almost a person, who has been watching over them all these centuries.
    Thanks for writing.

    Liked by 1 person

    • TanGental says:

      indeed, a grande dame

      Like

      • trifflepudling says:

        Yes, do not underestimate the depth of feeling and direct feed into the soul of the French people, even if they aren’t believers.
        These old buildings, particularly the English churches, are astonishing buildings in their own right, regardless of faith. Victorian copies not so much, I’m afraid!

        Liked by 1 person

      • TanGental says:

        I agree and I’d hate to lose even one… but then again do we need to save every church if we are so short of cash? Maybe we aren’t? Buggered if I have any answers

        Like

  10. Notre Dame is more than a grand old church – it is an iconic and mysterious building that embodies more than a thousand years of history and it can’t be built by today’s architects and builders who have lost the skills required. We would be an even sadder populace who stand bereft of reminders that we come from a long line of creative ancestors who knew things we don’t. Given the debate between restoring building or saving lives, I doubt very much that your chosen number of a billion would be taken away from that building and spent on people. I don’t believe it would happen. I can’t believe it because we live in a world that sadly espouses a certain fiscal worship and there is no glory in setting up welfare programmes, one’s money must be attached to a venue, a plaque and the greater glory of me and my money……… Too cynical? At the very least I hope ‘they’ do the propping up and making safe work, even if part of the damage is left as is – being part of the living history of Notre Dame.

    Like

  11. Jennie says:

    Well said, Geoff!

    Liked by 1 person

  12. JT Twissel says:

    It was a horrifying scene. I wouldn’t want to be the person who caused the accident.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. I have no problem with the universal reaction to Notre Dame – but I would have liked to have seen something similar to Grenfell Tower.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Brilliant post. It enunciates everything I’ve been feeling about the fire and what it means. History is an enormous river, isn’t it, taking us to some unknown sea. And, as it flows, it picks up water from here, alluvial silt from there, water from somewhere else and so on, and mixes it all up into something that’s as new and different as it is ancient and unchanged. We’d all be much poorer or, as you said, anchorless without it. And, I wonder, if we wouldn’t also be even less inclined than we already are to worry about the poor, the homeless, the food bank users, the dozens of people blown up in those Sri Lankan churches etc…..

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Beautiful, Geoff. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Widdershins says:

    I know I’ve made a couple of semi-cynical-mostly-realistic comments on this post but I do agree with what you said about it being a physical manifestation of our need for continuity, to paraphrase. 🙂 …

    I grew up in a country, and now live in another, where the major visible trappings of history are only a few hundred years old and can only imaging what it must feel like to stand before an edifice that is five hundred, a thousand, three thousand, and more, years old.

    Life moves so fast these days that I think we crave the reassurance that something can be that old and still have a visceral presence. Perhaps it gives up hope for the future. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  17. Well said Geoff- well said and appreciated.

    Liked by 1 person

  18. noelleg44 says:

    Beautifully said, Geoff. I decry those who say give the money to the poor. Sometimes there are places more important. It will be expensive to rebuild because of the craftsmen needed – IF they can find them. The ceiling was special and that spire is going to be the devil to reconstruct, but at least the rooster was saved!

    Like

  19. LucciaGray says:

    Absolutely agree with you, especially: ‘It reminds us that we are bit players in the full sweep of the tide that has been, is and will be humanity’.

    Liked by 1 person

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