Before the fire, Notre Dame seen from the Left Bank
The French Government has set up Let’s Rebuild Together to enable
anyone of a mind to make their donations
By Jason Carlton
Around 6:30 p.m., on April 16, a fire broke out in Notre Dame de Paris. Crowds in and around the Cathedral – a mass was being said at the time – were quickly evacuated, promptly lining the Seine to watch the tragedy unfold. The first reports reverberated across the world. Millions turned to their televisions, watching in shock as the fire gradually engulfed the old church. Within hours, the spire built in the 19th century by the young and controversial architect Viollet-le-Duc to replace the medieval one that had been removed in 1786 because it was unstable in strong wind, snapped off its support and crashed into the inferno. Incidentally, Viollet-le-Duc surrounded his new spire with statues of the Apostles; Saint Thomas bore a noticeable resemblance to him.
What makes the 2019 catastrophe all the more devastating is that it was most likely an accident. As of now, officials believe it was sparked within a complex network of wooden beams supporting the “late” spire. It seems somewhat bizarre, in the modern era, that a foundational, world-famous building should accidentally go up in flames. Rome burned in 64, London in 1666, Chicago in 1871, and Notre Dame (not quite Paris but symbolic of it) in 2019.
For 859 years, the cathedral has been a staple of France, adding a personal twist to the experiences of the millions who visit Paris. By 11 p.m., officials were confident that they would save the main structure, but the damage had been done. All throughout the night, the fiery orange flame burned inside the church, while the crowds that had gathered nearby prayed and sang “Ave Maria”.
The church has been in desperate need of funds for years and, at last, more than $900 million have been pledged by private individuals, firms and public institutions toward the rebuilding effort. To bring an ironically happy end to the tragedy, it may be that the fire will be what will allow France to rebuild the cathedral back to its former glory.
However, in the heat of the moment, France would do well to remember the wise words Prosper Mérimée, French historian, archeologist, and Inspector-General of Historical Monuments who cautioned Viollet-le-Duc as he embarked on the major restoration of Notre Dame: “In such a project, one cannot act with too much prudence or discretion…A restoration may be more disastrous for a monument than the ravages of centuries.”
French President Emmanuel Macron wants Notre Dame rebuilt in five years, in time for the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris: “We have so much to rebuild, so yes, we will rebuild the Notre Dame Cathedral to make it even more beautiful, and I want it to be finished in five years.”
Architects reckon the job will take between twenty and forty years.
Viollet-le-Duc’s 19th century restoration of the Notre Dame
Featured image/InSapphoWeTrust, CC BY-SA2.0
Nortre Dame in flames/LeLaisserPasserA38, CC BY-SA4.0
Crowd/Boutte, CC BY-SA4.0
Macron/Arno Mikkor, CC BY2.0
Cathedral in 1841/Vincent Chevalier, PD
St. Thomas/Armonia Amanda, CC BY-SA3.0