Certain places have a sense of permanence and immortality, as if they’ve been here since the beginning of time and always will be. Even for the many of us who have never been there, Notre Dame Cathedral has stood tall in our collective conscious as such a place.
Monday’s terrible fire captivated the world, reminding us that even the most enduring and seemingly immovable of symbols can shine for centuries only to be forever changed in an instant. It’s a startling reminder of our own impermanence, but as we’ve seen on the streets of Paris, also a reaffirmation of human resilience and strength of spirit.
“Suddenly, I have the feeling that a part of myself was burning. And all the other diplomats and employees of the embassy felt the same emotion,” Gerard Araud, France’s Ambassador to the United States, told PBS. “So you can guess that I’m sort of relieved to know that the main structure of the cathedral apparently has been saved.”
Parisians and tourists gathered Monday night as the flames burned through years of remarkable craftsmanship, unbreakable faith and irreplaceable history. They gathered to mourn, to pray and at times, to sing. There was a hauntingly beautiful melancholy in the air as the crowd sang “Ave Maria,” simultaneously a lament and a statement of togetherness and resolve.
The hundreds of firefighters who battled the fire through the night, ultimately saving the cathedral’s main structure and bell towers, similarly showed resolve and remarkable bravery. Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo credited first responders and municipal officials for saving historical and holy artifacts by forming a human chain.
“We are terribly, tremendously grateful to the firemen of Paris, because they really saved the cathedral,” Valérie Pécresse, the president of the French region that includes Paris, told ABC News Tuesday morning. In the same interview, she was asked what she wanted the world to know about Notre Dame in the fire’s aftermath.
“Tell them that the cathedral is still standing,” Pécresse responded.
As viewers around the world watched the fire spread through the centuries-old gothic cathedral in real time, even the emergency sirens sounding in the background had a strange musicality to them, as if to herald a slight sense of calm and new beginning in the midst of tragedy and chaos.
Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the archbishop of New York, said he saw “the spirit of resurrection, new life, revival” in the people of Paris. “Maybe this is going to bring about a great revival.”
“This fire won’t have the last word,” Dolan proclaimed, noting that the tragedy comes in the midst of Holy Week for Christians. “This Holy Week teaches us that, like Jesus, death brings life. Today’s dying, we trust, will bring rising.”