Last night just as I got home from the office, my son texted me – Notre Dame brule O.O!
It took a minute to sink in, then I scoured the news stations and saw that the roof was on fire. For the next few hours, I watched at the flames consumed the spire and part of the roof, and finally, when night had fallen, watched as exhausted firemen finally admitted it was under control, that the two bell towers had been spared, and that most of the artwork had been saved, and that even the great organ and three iconic stained glass windows had survived (although with what damage remains to be seen).
A tragedy, I thought, and immediately thought of the museum of Natural history in Delhi which had burned, and where so many irreplaceable specimens had been lost. I thought also of the Chartres Cathedral – burned and rebuilt in the middle ages. I thought of the great library of Alexandria, where a treasure of knowledge had been lost forever. And I thought that the world turned, nothing lasted forever, and we were all rather unique and irreplaceable. Funny how you think “Oh, but an 800 year old building full of artwork and treasures is so much more important that a person.” Well, you may think that. I don’t. No lives were lost in the fire – that’s what mattered to me. And I think that it was nice that the treasures were saved and that the cathedral will be rebuilt – but there are people living in abject poverty, and already there is over 600,000,000$ raised to rebuild a stone edifice. No, to me something is wrong. If God exists, he does not want people crying over buildings – he wants them to cry over the child hungry at night, over the young woman who has no legs and no friends, the man who is about to leap out the window, the teenager who is so angry he wants to shoot holes in the whole world – those are who God wants us to cry over. Not a pile of stone – no matter how awesome it is. We built it. We can build something else.
Personally, I think it should get a whole new modern look, with a glass roof, all new material. Something light, airy, insubstantial – to go with the two bell towers. Something to say “We are humans, we move forward, we don’t cry over molten lead, we look forward to change.” But of course, that will never happen. Most people will want to see exactly the same roof, the same spire, the same old same old. And they will walk past the begger in the street and hand over their 20€ to the building society for new cement.
I’d rather live in a city that has a charred ruin in the center but will build shelter for the poor. I’d rather live in a world that appreciates the beauty of an old building, and respects it, but doesn’t venerate it (is this what God meant when he said you will not worship golden idols?) And will rebuild it – but maybe it will be different, more modern, not as expensive, and the Catholic church will step in and say, “First feed and house your poor, then think about rebuilding this cathedral.” Because it’s true that there are millions of people on earth, but just one Notre Dame Cathedral – but the church was built to worship God, not to be worshipped – and even one person’s life is more precious to God than any church or mosque or temple. At least, that’s what I think.