Like many others, I was transfixed watching flames consume Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris.
Unlike many others, I was sitting there not so much in tearful grief at the enormous loss, but simply pondering a greater significance—wondering if this was some transformative metaphor for the masses, of an iconic religious structure whose ancient dry timbers were igniting to signify the destruction of the old ways of viewing cultural religious icons to make room for newer spiritual/cultural beliefs.
For certain I do not wish to condemn any faith or belittle the beliefs of others, but back when that cathedral was first designed and construction had begun in 1160 then largely completed by 1260, the intention behind the religious structure was far more than simply worshipping a deity and set of beliefs in a particular way. There was a lot of engineering genius and human grandiosity designed into that structure, especially for that time period in history. And I’m sure it will be rebuilt to closely match the original designs. I have no doubt that it will rise again as the Parisian icon that it truly is. There should be no worries to the contrary.
But I want to reconsider WHY that iconic cathedral was created in the first place.
Back in 1160, the 1st set of Holy Crusades had ended and the 2nd set of Holy Crusades were underway (and I use the term HOLY only in the recognition that this warfare was sanctioned by the European Kings of the land and the Popes of that time period who governed the common people using their papal religious authority as reasoning for killing all who were not Christian, and reacquiring land that had previously fallen to those who were not Christian.) Lots of unholy deeds were done under the jurisdiction of and sanctioned by the Roman Catholic Church through the ages.
So back in 1160, this massive French cathedral was built to honor God, Jesus and The Virgin Mary in one sense, but also to honor the hubris of men of power during that time, who believed that one religion was superior to others and this cathedral should signify it by its sheer structural magnificence—the grander, the taller, the more beautiful and amazing, the better.
This religious structure was so significant that the French King and Pope of the time were even in attendance at the foundation setting.
“The chronicler Jean de Saint-Victor [fr] recorded in the Memoriale Historiarum that the construction of Notre-Dame began between 24 March and 25 April 1163 with the laying of the cornerstone in the presence of King Louis VII and Pope Alexander III. Four phases of construction took place under bishops Maurice de Sully and Eudes de Sully” (Wikipedia)
So there are a lot of reasons why Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris is historically and spiritually significant.
But in terms of true religiosity, here is another quote from Wikipedia:
“French census data does not contain information about religious affiliation. According to a 2011 survey by IFOP, a French public opinion research organization, 61 percent of residents of the Paris Region (Île-de-France) identified themselves as Roman Catholic, though just 15 percent said they were practicing Catholics, while 46 percent were non-practicing. In the same survey, 7 percent of residents identified themselves as Muslims, 4 percent as Protestants, 2 percent as Jewish, and 25 percent as without religion. ”
So the current significance of the Notre Dame Cathedral is now more cultural and iconic (rather than religious), especially as a well-known Parisian landmark with amazing architectural consequence. It represents many things to many people, and it should be and WILL BE rebuilt.
But please recognize it for what it truly is in its historical significance as French Gothic architecture rather than the symbol of present day Catholicism.
A lot of folks had deep feelings of loss over the structure fire. In fact while watching it, even to me it felt like a part of our western history was burning to the ground before our eyes. But more than that, to some it felt like the symbolic heart of the Roman Catholic Church was being Divinely purified from within.
And to those who felt this was an amazing Divine Cleansing of original corrupt patriarchal/papal intentions and deceitful practices in the name of religious belief, it was truly quite the sight.