SOME readers have rightly noticed the lack of commentary on the devastating fire at Notre-Dame Cathedral. This is not because we believe it to be unimportant: quite the opposite. This is because the fire was so awful to watch, the tragedy so complete that I needed time to gather my thoughts. This, combined with the fact that I was on holiday with my family at the time of the fire, followed by Easter weekend, caused delay to discussing this profound event.
The truth is that the Notre-Dame fire is, for me, worse than pretty much anything outside a family tragedy. If I think about it for too long, and whether it is an omen for Western civilisation itself, I can fall into an abyss of despair so deep it takes a while to come back from. It seems Western Europe is in big trouble – it is being consumed and destroyed by a lack of faith.
I came to the story on the last day of my holiday having enjoyed a family dinner without any communication or phone. When I logged back into Twitter late that night the fire was roaring and the news said the next half hour to an hour was critical to the entire building standing or falling. So, I watched and prayed and feared the cathedral would be lost. It was truly awful to watch in real time. Eventually when it became clear the structure would stay up, relief was mingled with deep sadness.
The next few days I tried to focus on the positive. I was genuinely moved by the unity that this fire seemed to inspire in France and across the world. The Crown of Thorns was saved, as were the rose windows, and it seems the organ escaped the worst. President Macron pledged Notre-Dame would be rebuilt within five years and the funds seemed to flow in to cover the cost.
But the truth is that Notre-Dame can never be rebuilt in the truest sense. The 800-year-old roof, a miracle built from wood that I believe is no longer even available, is gone. For ever. It is ashes and not even our finest minds and computer can put it back together. It might be rebuilt to look the same, but it never will be in essence.
That is difficult for us to believe – we believe can do anything these days but the truth is some of the treasures inside Notre-Dame Cathedral and parts of the Cathedral itself are irreplaceable and we are never, ever getting them back. Like so much of our heritage and tradition we waited too long to maintain it, to nurture it and then it was gone.
The Cathedral to Our Lady was built in medieval times and while we use the term medieval as an insult, those craftsmen gave us Notre-Dame while the architects of today give us the Tulip. Glass and steel to house commercial centres and apartments that no one lives in- that’s what we get today. Glass and steel towers that are literally empty – this is our future.
Notre-Dame took more than a century to build. And yes, it was built with stone and priceless wood, but it was also built with the one thing money can’t buy: faith. So, the question is do we, does France, once the heart of Catholic Europe, have the faith to rebuild? I’m not so sure.