Notre Dame

The stone transformed by sweat to glory on the Île de la Cité is truly something to see. Its disappearance is truly something to mourn. But that splendid cathedral Notre Dame is so much more than a spectacle. It is best described, in my view, as an article of faith.

The faith that built the cathedral has rebuilt it many times. The faith is itself the cathedral’s preservation. Its qualities can be appreciated in isolation from faith, but the fact of the matter is that faith. Faith keeps it standing.

Notre Dame’s various injuries are too several to recount and its salvation from previous fires may be largely of interest to the construction sector. If you’d like to learn about that sort of stuff, I’ll give you the number of my dad. He’ll tell you all about the vulnerability of renovation sites to fire.

Regrettably, I did not follow my father into the trade, but I did follow him into the faith. Not that it was my decision as an infant to be saved from the possibility of hell, but I am a Roman Catholic, whether I like it or not.

I’d disclose further details of my intimate relationship with the Saviour and His one true church, but it’s boring. Slightly less boring is the power of faith to raise monuments and to tear them down. Quite interesting is the inability of Western leaders, writers and people who are banging on that they Stand With Paris to describe the faith that has led to an outpouring of tantrums.

I do understand that there is great grief for this loss. I also understand that it is not only felt by Roman Catholics. In fact, my Catholic family are far less moved to mourn than the very secular press. Without wishing to challenge the misery genuinely felt by many, I haven’t seen purple prose like this since my own at 14:

It feels as though the very heart of France and the soul of Europe have been suddenly and viciously ripped out. – The Guardian editorial

It’s the French for whom this building represents a shared history — a great Gothic splendour where kings prayed.” – Andrew Bolt

This is not simply to say “dry your tears”; although, do. It is not to say that my tears are more sacred. I may have shed one or two, but these were for the hairball of historical madness choking the West.

Yes. Have your grief. I get it. Not only do I sense it, but I understand a little Western misery. The US hegemon is in freefall and the European project is in crisis. The West and all its institutions are in ruins and our cultural primacy is under threat. But the threat to all our fine Western Initiations is not a fire one can see. It’s a garbage fire created by those institutions.

“Devastation” is a term used better by my family to describe the very deep wound in Mother Church. Perhaps you’ve heard: there’s been an issue-or-two. Perhaps you might understand that a Roman Catholic might see hope in the damage. One woman’s powerful symbol of Western hope is another’s powerful symbol of resurrection within the faith. A burning building is a chance for rebirth. A West entirely blind to its own insoluble faith is a chance only for death.  

After all, there’s another monument slightly older than Notre Dame also under threat right now. Victoria’s Djap Wurrung trees stand today as they have since the time of the cathedral’s construction, and the VicRoads authority has planned to tear them down. One is an 800-year-old monument to birth. Its devastation is planned.

Europe is full of beautiful buildings and the West has a billionaire class eager to preserve them. They have pitched into a preservation plate for a cathedral always upheld by faith. For all the splendour of divinity, it is not a tragedy. Nothing has been lost. Whether this is the monument into which you place your faith in “outstanding architecture” or outstanding Western liberal democracy, see what your faith is and ask why you are blind to all the rest.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey