Millions of us watched yesterday as the the great spire of Notre Dame fell prey to the flames of the fire that reduced it to ashes. And this on the second day of Holy Week that time when traditionally we recall Jesus entering the temple courts at Jerusalem and clearing out those selling proclaiming, “It is written,” he said to them, “ 'My house will be a house of prayer' ; but you have made it 'a den of robbers.'” You can imagine the doomsayers and what their blogs will be filled with today.
Jo and I visited the great Cathedral some years back and in truth I left feeling less inspired. But then for someone who came to faith in an overgrown shed, the architecture was somewhat lost on me at the time which feels rather like sacrilege today! So my feelings caught me by surprise when I saw the flames engulfing the the great Gothic House of God, and not least because Jo had pointed out the model version of the Cathedral on our visit to Legoland with the kids when some ten minutes later I received the BBC notification on my phone to say it was ablaze.
There’s something quite moving about an old, historic building consumed by flames. The destruction is so palpable - so quick and permanent. That which has stood for centuries crumbles before our eyes and suddenly we’re all bothered because it carries a clear message: How fragile life really is. Here one minute and the next gone. Something which we’d expect to remain for ever is taken in a moment and we are shocked.
Our inner longing for permanence and certainty is carried in buildings like Notre Dame. We may feel indifferent towards them; moved by them or simply neutral but their loss speaks its own message that resonates with the soul. All things are passing away and for life to have any semblance of meaning we have to dig deep into the heart to make sense of the temporal. Great architecture should inspire and move us beyond the aesthetic to stir our spirits. That’s why these places were built in the first place - to point us towards God; to remind us there is something bigger and greater than any one of us.
For generations the great architecture of the Church has inspired millions; people find peace, tranquillity and hope inside their beauty and consistency and we take this so much for granted until it’s taken away from us. Today as we look upon the destruction of Notre Dame we might find our hearts strangely moved and wonder why. Albeit from a very different context the Apostle Paul pondered such realities when he wrote, ‘For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.
Notre Dame will rise from the ashes to once again remind a generation of the value of what can so easily be lost. No doubt Jo and I will be amongst its visitors and next time I am sure to view its beauty through different eyes.