Poor France! The ‘Eldest Daughter of the Catholic Church’ has lost her principal Cathedral, her Mother Church. Those who love her are devastated.
I feel personally a deep sadness and distress, but I also ask myself whether that is justified: after all, the awful extent of human suffering, day by day, unrelentingly, should grieve us much more than the loss of material things, however beautiful and venerable, shouldn’t it?
Yet Christianity is the most materialistic of the Faiths. We believe that all God created is good and we trust in the Resurrection of the Flesh. We value icons and sacraments, outward and visible signs of spiritual reality that are mysteriously united with the sacred things they symbolize. Great Art is a precious Gift of God. However you look at it, Notre Dame de Paris is a grievous loss.
No doubt it will be rebuilt, whether with almost complete fidelity (like Montecassino, or St Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna), or in new and potentially exciting ways. The task will offer challenging opportunities to artists and restorers of all kinds.
Whatever happens, though, must not be a mere sentimental exercise but should remind us of what it stands for, the sublimity of the Christian vision of Faith and Beauty.
As the very essence of the Christian Faith is embattled by secularism, perhaps this calamity can play a role in bringing us back to a recognition of the deepest Truths that lie behind the wood, the stones, the glass. How appropriate that our next Colloquium should Focus on the theme ‘Rebuilding the Walls of Sion’!
Here is Kenneth Clark’s programme on Notre Dame, from the old CivilisationTV series: