I’ve not commented on the Notre Dame fire because I’ve been waiting to find out how bad the damage would turn out to be. Some of the early reports spoke of its “complete destruction”, as if all that would be left in the end would be a heap of smouldering rubble. But watching the videos of the fire consuming the cathedral roof, I rather doubted that the fire would also consume the the stone walls and towers. I thought the final outcome would see an empty stone shell, rather like Glastonbury Abbey or Tintern Abbey in England.
And it seems that it’s turned out much better than that. For it appears that the fire raging on the roof never got inside the nave below, nor the twin towers above. Or if it did get inside them, the 400 firefighters on the scene were able to drive it back out again in a heroic 10-hour firefight.
More or less everything apart from the roof was saved. The cathedral has had a haircut, and lost the 800 year old forest of timber on its roof. What seems to have saved the interior was the stone vaults beneath the timber roof. For these vaults largely remained intact (as the photo below, taken during the fire, shows), and protected the church beneath, as they were no doubt intended to do.
And, even better, several French billionaires have already pledged $1 billion for its repair.
In fact, it seems to me that, with a canvas awning in place of its roof, it could “business as usual” in two or three days.
We are witnessing the death and resurrection of Notre Dame. And, remarkably, we’ve been witnessing it during Holy Week, in which the death and resurrection of Christ are remembered.
And maybe we are witnessing the death and resurrection not just of a a church, but of Christianity itself. For there have been a wave of recent attacks against churches in France.
Anger as France sees 10 Catholic churches attacked in ONE week
And a lot of people believe that the Notre Dame fire was just another one of these attacks.
Perhaps it was, but if so it has backfired badly. For perhaps now people will notice the tremendous attack that Christianity (and the entirety of Western culture) is under, and at last come to their assistance.
The Notre Dame will soon be getting a new roof. It won’t be a forest of oak timbers. It’ll be a fireproof 21st century roof, made of steel or even titanium. And it will perhaps be as daring a piece of architecture as any of the rest of the the cathedral. And it could perhaps do what the original builders may have wanted to do, which was to extend the stained glass windows right up into the roof. Why not give it a stained glass roof? This was always a building that provided an internal experience. It was a building for people to be inside, not view from outside. These cathedrals were theatres. They were the theatres and cinemas of the 12th century. The Latin mass was as scripted as any play. And it told a story.
The Notre Dame fire is a deeply symbolic event. It remains to be seen, in future months and years, just how symbolic it will prove to be.