Tristan Johnson, Archivist
On April 15, the world gasped in horror as it watched the Notre Dame Cathedral burn. This famous landmark in Paris is the epitome of French culture and art, dating back hundreds of years.
The fire quickly spread to the roof of the Notre Dame, engulfing some of its stained-glass windows, wooden interior and central spire with it. Parts of the cathedral were undergoing renovations and therefore were surrounded by scaffolding. Sixteen copper statues had been removed the previous week.
Hundreds of firefighters worked hard to keep the fire contained for nearly 15 hours. While a large amount of destruction has been done, the main structure of the cathedral has been saved from going up in smoke. The Notre Dame Cathedral has been a prominent structure in Paris for centuries, and an invaluable amount of history has been lost.
A Unesco World Heritage site, the church receives nearly 13 million visitors each year, more than any other landmark in Europe.
Dr. Jeanne Zarucchi, professor of art history and French at the University of Missouri–St. Louis, explains that “the Cathedral of Notre Dame is like the Eiffel Tower or the Arch of Triumph, as a symbol of France itself. It has come to symbolize the country’s national identity, which is inseparable from its rich history.” Dr. Zarucchi further explained that while the Notre Dame is an iconic landmark, “we should not forget that it is an active Catholic church, where religious services are held and where important marriages, funerals and ceremonies around the world view it as a symbol of faith.”
While it is still unclear as to what exactly caused the fire, many artifacts important to Catholicism, and the world’s history as a whole, have been thankfully saved. Some of these artifacts include Jesus’ Crown of Thorns and a piece of the cross that he was crucified upon, an organ dating back many years, and the previously mentioned bronze statues of the Twelve Apostles and four evangelists.
Emmanuel Macron, the president of the French Republic, has spoken about his hopes to complete restoration efforts to establish a “more beautiful” Notre Dame in as little as five years. Some concept drawings that have been released include Dubai-style concrete spires and a roof made out of plate-glass windows.
Dr. Zarucchi exclaimed that she would “not want the cathedral to be reimagined with a combination of the historical and the contemporary. That would be fine for many buildings, but not for Notre Dame, which was very carefully designed to be a representation of heaven on Earth, and not appear to be the work of mortal beings.”
While plans for restoration have only just begun, there has been a high amount of controversy over how much money has been raised to repair the Notre Dame: over $800 million USD. Many argue that it is concerning that millions of dollars have been raised for what is essentially just a building, while there are many other issues in the world that are more deserving of this funding. François-Henri Pinault, the chairman and CEO of international luxury group Kering, has pledged $112 million alone.
Dr. Violaine White, assistant teaching professor of French at UMSL, stated that “I completely understand their concerns and their outrage. The fire happened during the crisis of the Yellow Vests. People are complaining that they are having trouble making ends meet. In just a couple of days, people have donated millions for a building. Yes, between life and a building, there should be an order of priority with the living.”
“But giving money for such a building,” White continued, “shows that there is money for other and more novel causes. I am happy people are willing to give to Notre Dame because no one else can do it, it can only be done by private enterprises. It is a question of political will.”
Since no official plans for restoration have been released as of yet, the Notre Dame Cathedral remains closed until further notice. This famous landmark has been the site for countless historical events, including the coronation of Napoleon Bonaparte and where Joan of Arc was beatified after being burned at the stake centuries earlier.
Regardless of varying opinions, it is impossible to ignore the cultural and historical significance that the Notre Dame Cathedral holds in society. Restoration efforts can hopefully begin as soon as possible, so that the bells of Notre Dame can ring once more for all guests to hear through its sacred halls.