France: A nation mourns after Notre-Dame inferno
The fire that ravaged Notre-Dame de Paris this week has scarred the soul of France and sent an “immense wave of sadness across the planet,” said Le Monde (France) in an editorial. For more than 850 years, the Catholic cathedral has been the heart of Paris. It survived the Revolution of 1789 and the Nazis—German generals defied Hitler’s orders to bomb it. Its bells rang our joys and our sorrows, tolling for the Liberation of Paris in 1944 and after the November 2015 terrorist attacks that killed 130 people in our capital. Now Notre-Dame has been gutted by a massive blaze that apparently broke out by accident on the roof, where renovations were ongoing. Parisians and tourists flocked to the terrible sight, and when the burning spire toppled, the crowd gasped and wept. They were living the nightmare Victor Hugo had imagined in his novel The Hunchback of Notre-Dame. Grieving onlookers began singing hymns, an Ave Maria for Our Lady. “For all lovers of art and civilization, she was a sumptuous Gothic jewel, a miracle of architecture and an invaluable museum.”
The cathedral’s two stone towers and its façade survived, said Alexis Feertchak in Le Figaro (France), but the wealth of masterpieces and sacred objects lost could be immeasurable. Notre-Dame housed three relics from the Passion of Christ: a piece of the True Cross, one of the nails, and the crown of thorns Jesus wore at the Crucifixion. In “the first sign of hope,” authorities said they had saved those relics, but the fate of other treasures is not known. The 76 huge 17th-and 18th-century paintings that hung throughout the cathedral “could not be unhooked” from the walls, and their condition is uncertain—at least, they are damaged by smoke and soot; at worst, they are ashes. The rose windows seem to be intact, but the lead that holds them together may be fatally weakened. The great 18th-century organ is still standing, but its pipes—made of an alloy of tin and lead that is vulnerable to heat—may no longer sound.
How could this happen? asked The Economist (U.K.). Some 500 firefighters rushed to the scene, but they were delayed in evening traffic, and by the time the water cannons were deployed, the fire had spread across the roof. France is still in shock, but soon it will “search for somebody to blame.” Already, “questions are being asked about disaster planning for a monument of this scale and national importance.” President Emmanuel Macron said we will rebuild, no matter the cost, said Guillaume Goubert in La Croix (France). In the aftermath of the blaze, businesses and donors pledged some $1 billion for the reconstruction effort. How strange that a country “so deeply secularized, de-Christianized,” would “feel its heart crushed at the sight of a church in flames.” In this Easter Week of resurrection, we vow “that Notre-Dame de Paris will be reborn from the ashes.” ■