Notre Dame and a Faith We Once Shared

As I watched in shock the images of Notre Dame’s roof and spire collapsing in flames on what must have been until then a lovely spring evening in Paris, I found myself thinking of France and its role in our history. And my history as well.

My paternal grandmother was Dutch but of French Huguenot stock, the French protestants of whom many chose the lowlands of Holland to settle in after the edict of Nantes stripped away their religious freedoms and protections. Freedoms and protections that were far more limited than what is enjoyed in America but giving them a measure of security in their faith, none the less.

My name comes from a French surname that a former senator from Colorado apparently shares although as a last name..

But the Huguenot and the divisions that have torn at Christianity - an odd curiosity or nearly irrelevant to most of the world nowadays - are something that appeared after the building of Notre Dame, which when it appeared complete in Paris was a church for all of France.

That spire that collapsed on Monday evening was raised in the 13th and 14th centuries, well over a hundred years before Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the door of the Cathedral in Wittenberg, setting off a process of revolt, reformation, innovation, and even warfare that still has not healed across and within Christianity. Distant ancestors of mine revered and prayed for if not in (and surely cursed on more than one occasion) that church and that sacred dome before their descendants joined the Reformation and revolted against the Vatican and even against Notre Dame herself.

So the Cathedral's symbolism is old and fractured by Europe and Christianity's modern history. Its ambition to call and gather us together under its soaring architecture to raise our voices, souls, and minds towards a higher cause is a fading reality in the 21st century. But the symbol persists.

Every faith on the planet has some sort of structure that fulfills (or once fulfilled) this role and which functions as a symbol but also as something far deeper. Christianity is fading in Europe and arguably in the Americas as well. As France rebuilds her mother Cathedral and turns her eyes to that holy symbol which they once shared as a people, let us hope that the reasons for her beauty and power are unearthed once more and offered to those of us in need of spirit and guidance.

Another moment in my own life came to me soon after having watched the flames. It was a sun-filled winter's day in Quebec in my boarding school a half-hour's drive from the border with Vermont and we were in chapel and singing (as we very occasionally did this being the 70's) a hymn in French. I wish I could remember which, but it escapes me. What I remember is (I believe) Joanne Carrone whose name I am almost certainly misspelling in the pew behind me raising her voice with a crispness and clarity and pride as she sang and as the light reflected off the snow outside and reached up into the second-floor chapel filling its interior.

It was an illuminating moment, in every sense of the word.

Let us wish La France the best of strength and vision as they rebuild their Cathedral and open their Lady's doors once again to the faithful and also to those awed by her power even as they keep another faith, or keep no faith at all.

Posted by Keeley at April 17, 2019 5:47 PM
Comments
Comment #441706

You are writing about Notre-Dame De Paris. There are many Notres Dames in France:

Cathedral of Nôtre Dame, Amiens,
Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Bayeux,
Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Chartres,
Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Laon,
Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Rouen,
Cathédrale Notre-Dame-de-Strasbourg,
Basilica of Notre-Dame de Nice
Basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourvière, Lyon
and many others

Henri de Navarre was married in front of Notre-Dame de Paris on August 18,1572. August 23-24 the massacre of the Huguenots started.

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Posted by: d.a.n at April 18, 2019 12:22 PM
Comment #441772

I apologize for quibbling, but the spire was added only a couple hundred years ago.

The cathedral was built over nearly 200 years starting in the middle of the 12th century, although it was only in the mid 1800s that architect Eugene Viollet-le-Duc added the lead-covered spire during restoration work.

https://www.reuters.com/article/us-france-notredame/france-asks-should-notre-dames-spire-be-rebuilt-as-it-was-idUSKCN1RT197

Posted by: Weary Willie at April 18, 2019 1:21 PM
Comment #441773

You actually have to know that before you can question it, right? How many of you read the bit about the spire and didn’t question it because you didn’t know the facts about it?

Posted by: Weary Willie at April 18, 2019 1:23 PM
Comment #441774

It’s like the statement that the fire started in the reconstruction area. I read it started away from the area and spread “rapidly”.

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