August 18, 2019

What Notre Dame Means to Catholics

“It was early in the afternoon of Monday in Holy Week, as John Carol Case was singing the “Was wollt ihr mir geben?” of Judas on my turntable, that I first saw the images of Notre-Dame de Paris burning. A few minutes earlier I had silently said a prayer for a few friends at the University of Notre Dame some 50 miles from me in South Bend, Indiana. It had not occurred to me when I saw a message announcing that a fire had broken at “Notre Dame” that the journalist meant the cathedral church of the Archdiocese of Paris, begun around the year of Our Lord 1160 and completed, if such buildings are ever really finished, nearly 200 years later.

I ought to have known better. The edifice has survived wars and revolutions and restoration projects whose advisability varied. That she might disappear, in whole or in part, from the face of the city with whom she is rightly synonymous had simply never occurred to me.

I can, I suppose, just about imagine how millions of non-Catholics, both in France and abroad, will have greeted the news. How sad that this “landmark,” this tourist attraction, this revered example of French Gothic architecture was destroyed.”

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