Holy Smoke!


Look! Up in the sky above Paris. It’s smoke. No, it’s HOLY smoke! The historic Notre Dame Cathedral went up in flames on Monday.

While people enjoy reading about hot topics, the cathedral fire is one hot topic which will not be pleasurable. Notre Dame is more than a tourist attraction or a religious site; it is a symbol of France itself. In fact, France owns Notre Dame, but the Catholic Church has  the exclusive right to use it for religious purposes in perpetuity. [“In perpetuity” is a fancy schmancy legal term meaning continuing forever.]

Because of the fire, there’s one less item on my bucket list. I won’t be able to travel to Paris and gaze upon this UNESCO World Heritage site which attracts approximately 13 million tourists every year. Notre Dame boasts nearly double the tourists visiting the Eiffel Tower–which at last report was still standing.

What’s so special about Notre Dame? Well, for one thing, it is old. Really old. Its cornerstone was laid in 1163, and the structure was built over the course of 200 years; it was completed in 1345. Notre Dame’s famous gargoyles were added in 1240 to serve a less scarier than might be expected purpose, i.e., to act as rain spouts. The Gothic cathedral’s wood and lead spire was built during a mid-19th century restoration. Its towers were the tallest structures in Paris until the Eiffel Tower was completed in 1889.

Not only is Notre Dame extremely old, but it has seen and been a part of numerous historic events. The church was desecrated during the French Revolution. (Apparently eating cake and destroying holy sites were the thing back then.) Napoleon Bonaparte was crowned Emperor of France inside Notre Dame in 1804 and married in the cathedral as well. Notre Dame’s bells were rung to mark the end of both World War I and World War II.

Speaking of bells, fire bells rang when the fire was first reported to emergency services as a blaze in the cathedral’s attic. More than 400 fireman ultimately responded in an attempt to extinguish the inferno. French President Emmanuel Macron even postponed a major speech to his nation to rush to the scene as rescue efforts were ongoing. Those efforts resulted in Notre Dame’s famous 18th century organ and its 8,000 pipes surviving the inferno.

Hopefully, Emmanuel, Marie, Gabriel, Anne Genevieve, Denis, Marcel, Etienne, Maurice, Jean-Marie, and Benoit-Joseph came through the disaster unscathed. No, those aren’t church employees, they are the cathedral’s ten bells. Given the extent of destruction, I am sure this was not simply a five alarm blaze but a ten bell blaze.

Notre Dame is not only old and historic, but it’s an architectural gem. Architects view Notre Dame as the finest example of French Gothic architecture. The structure is famed for its carved stone gargoyles, the flying buttresses which hold up its walls, and its stained glass windows. Thankfully, Notre Dame’s three thirteenth century rose windows survived the blaze, although they may be a bit rosier thanks to the heat of the fire.

In addition to its age, history, and architecture, Notre Dame is famed as a repository of religious relics and works of art.  In a testament to man’s determination, a human chain, which included the chaplain of the Paris Fire Brigade, formed to remove these items from the blazing structure. One relic saved was The Crown of Thorns which is believed to be a piece of what Jesus wore when he was crucified. Many rescued items were moved to the Louvre for safe keeping. Hopefully, the Louvre is more fireproof than the cathedral.

Notre Dame, situated on a small island in the Seine River in the center of Paris, is the setting for various creative works. It was the stomping grounds for Quasimodo, Notre Dame’s bell ringer in Victor Hugo’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame, a French Gothic novel published in 1831. Today the video game “Assassin’s Creed Unity” prominently features Notre Dame. I don’t know anything about the game, but hopefully it didn’t involve burning the structure down.

It’s too soon for the cause of the fire to have been pinpointed. The cathedral was undergoing an extensive $6.8 million renovation, so the fire potentially may be linked to that ongoing activity. Scenes from the fire clearly showed scaffolding around the structure. Those are two things I definitely want to avoid–being on a scaffold and in a fire! And forget doing both at the same time.

The flames have been extinguished, but a smoldering mess remains. The cathedral’s spire collapsed Monday evening, and its roof was ravaged. The medieval wooden interior of the structure was gutted. But in a vivid picture of hope and faith, the golden altar cross remained standing in the charred cathedral. The fires of hell and of  Notre Dame could not overcome it.

French President Macron has already vowed Notre Dame will be rebuilt. Actress Salma Hayek’s billionaire husband and his father announced plans to donate $113 million (of course, they’ll donate in Euros) towards that goal. Multiple millionaires have likewise pledged money for a rebuilding effort. Money towards rebuilding has poured in like water hoses turned on the burning cathedral; $600 million Euros were raised overnight.

The rebuilding effort will be aided by the latest and greatest technology. Before his death, art historian Andrew Tallon made 3-D laser maps of every detail on Notre Dame. Additionally, game artists and historians working on “Assassin’s Creed Unity” spent about two years getting the details of the cathedral just right, including where pictures hung on the walls.

While Notre Dame can be rebuilt, it will never be what it was before the fire. In a matter of a few hours, hundreds of years of history were wiped out. Let’s not take for granted sites of historical significance whether in Paris or somewhere in the U.S.A. Appreciate these sites while you can because you never know how long we will have them. Disaster can strike without warning at any time.

Notre Dame is a church, and a very important one, but the cathedral is just a building. People of faith make up the real church, and that church will withstand all sorts of disasters. A symbol of its endurance is the golden cross on the soot-tinged altar at Notre Dame. That cross survived the Notre Dame fire, but The Cross miraculously overcame death at Easter. Holy Smoke!

JUST WONDER-ing: Do people today value historical sites? Have you been to Notre Dame? If so, what about it spoke to you? Did you want to go to Notre Dame but never got the chance? Would you go if/when the cathedral is rebuilt?





5 thoughts on “Holy Smoke!

  1. Alice, this is a top-notch article. I would send it to OCV and see if she wants to re-publish it. Great job, Susan

    Sent from my iPhone


    Liked by 1 person

  2. There is lots of interesting in this article. It is sad that so many one sided people are protesting rebuilding the cathedral. I guess they aren’t thinking of the jobs created, materials sold, and tourism generated with the project.


    1. Thanks for reading, Ann. This is such a sad loss, but it did spur me to learn some history. The cathedral may be rebuilt, but it won’t be the original….


      1. Your research was quite informative. Yes, it is such a tragedy! I am thankful that the Crown of Thorns and some other items could be saved. I have heard discussions that the fire might also help people turn to God, especially since there will be more discussions. I pray that is true. He can certainly make that happen and I was so touched by the brilliance of the cross after the fire. It was as if God was making it light the way.


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