Yesterday evening at about 6:50pm local time, a fire broke out in Notre-Dame de Paris. The fire burned furiously for several hours, causing the collapse of the cathedral's famous spire and two-thirds of the roof.
At the time, the cathedral was actually under renovation to repair long-standing issues. Whether something about this work accidentally led to the fire is unknown but an investigation is under way.
All of France—and much of the world—mourned the disaster. French president Emmanuel Macron said this to his nation last night: "We'll rebuild this cathedral all together and it's undoubtedly part of the French destiny and the project we'll have for the coming years." Already, millions of euros have been donated to this project.
The burning of any building—especially one that is nearly one thousand years old—is always tragic. But why is this one so revered?
The spirit of Paris
Notre-Dame de Paris (which means "Our Lady of Paris") dates back to the year 1160. It is one of the most famous structures in the world and the most visited landmark in the city. Over 12 million people visit it every year. Many of these visitors come for Notre-Dame's connection to their faith, but just as many do not. That's because the cathedral's importance is greater than just its connection to religion.
It is a museum, full of priceless artifacts. It is the site of countless events in French and world history—of the crowning of kings, queens, emperors. Protests and revolutions have all happened here.
A work of art
Above all though, the cathedral itself is a work of art. In North America, we really don't have anything to compare it to. That's what happens when you're talking about a building that is four times older than our own country!
Notre-Dame is a Gothic-era cathedral. Churches from this time period—such as the Cologne Cathedral in Germany—are full of dizzying details that truly boggle the mind. Especially when you think about the technology of the time. How did they do it?
Every square inch of this massive structure contains a picture, a statue, a painting, a design. Some of these—like the famed rose windows—dwarf you with their incredible size. Others are small details, like a tiny carving in a railing. Then you think about how someone, hundreds of years ago, probably fussed and fretted over that little detail for weeks.
Notre-Dame contained literally tens of thousands of those sorts of details, great and small.
Let the next phase begin
How many of these irreplaceable details were lost to the fire? Once gone, these touches will never exist again.
The good news is that brave firefighters managed to prevent the collapse of the main stone structure of the building. Even better? Early photos suggest that many prized parts of the building survived the blaze. Hundreds of artifacts were rescued as well, and moved to safe locations.
In short, though this was a disaster, it could have been so much worse. In a way, it serves as a reminder of how our history is something we can't take for granted. Seeing so much of the world moved by this tragedy proves how much humans do value these things.
The other positive way to view this? A building like Notre-Dame was sort of never not under construction. Though construction began in 1160, it was being built for decades. Centuries even. In 1548—and again in 1793—rioters destroyed countless artifacts inside the building. Over the centuries, wind and age destroyed others. And always, Paris worked to rebuild and restore its famous cathedral. Each time, new styles of architecture and art were added to the building, giving it new shades of beauty.
Now, the city is faced with the same task. What will Notre-Dame look like when all is said and done? That's tough to say right now. But we know one thing for certain.
There will always be a Notre-Dame de Paris.