Mourning Notre-Dame

Envision with me the iconic buildings of the world, those structures that, unlike any other, represent the culture and identity of a people and their country, and their history. The Statue of Liberty, the Taj Mahal, Leaning Tower of Pisa, St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, Vienna Opera House, the dramatic one in Sydney. How tragic would be their loss to our world if ever they should disappear. All of us would mourn as if losing a close family member, a cherished loved one.

As I write this, Notre-Dame de Paris, known by millions as Notre-Dame Cathedral, is engulfed in flames, part of its roof collapsed, its spire fallen. An estimated 400 firefighters are battling the fire. Outside, growing crowds are watching in shock, singing hymns, many on their knees.

The structure, considered by scholars the most famous of the gothic cathedrals of the Middle Ages, was built on the ruins of two earlier churches, which themselves were on the site of a Gallo-Roman temple dedicated to Jupiter, according to Brittanica.

Pope Alexander III laid Notre-Dame’s foundation stone in 1163. The high altar was consecrated in 1189, according to historical accounts. The western façade and nave were completed by 1250, and various chapels and other additions were added over the next 100 years.

The New York Times reports that the fire broke out about 6:30 pm Paris time, interrupting a speech by President Emmanuel Macron, who had planned to speak in an effort to heal the country, which had experienced months of demonstrations.

My bride Betsy and I visited Notre-Dame Cathedral on one memorable occasion several years ago on a choir tour that included performances in Paris. On a sunny afternoon, we left the cathedral plaza for lunch at a nearby café, then descended the stone steps to the Seine and bought tickets for a boat ride down the river to the Eiffel Tower. No other tourists showed up for several minutes, so the operator took the two of us on a private trip with no one else on board.

We will never forget this experience, and we will forever mourn the beautiful cathedral ravaged by fire on this day.

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