The sight of the great Cathedral of Notre Dame engulfed in flames was almost unbearable to watch. Having stood and gazed at the magical rose window and laughed at the gargoyles the thought of such a wonderful building tumbling to blocks and ash was just too much and my eyes filled with tears. Watching the fire burn in the steeple, it struck me that the inferno was like a malevolent spirit standing over the great building. “Who is not deeply moved by the sight of this great Cathedral in flames?” asked Cardinal Vincent Nichols. “For the people of Paris this is a disaster that touches their very soul. Pray for them.”
When I saw the news this morning, that most of the building had been saved, that only one window had been lost, and only 5% of the artefacts damaged or destroyed, it was a relief., yet what has been lost can never be regained – as it was…
Church buildings are important reminders that Christ’s Church is at large in our communities, and we lose them at our peril.
But there is another side to the reporting of the fire. The crowds of Parisians singing hymns, last night as they watched the flames engulf their beloved church, and this morning, their gratitude that so much had been saved was as much a sight to see. People who probably don’t attend church had gathered with those who do to stand and wait with this great mediaeval structure as time and fire took its toll. The strength of feeling in those who waited and watched left me in no doubt that the once great cathedral would be rebuilt and restored.
That the whole thing happened in Holy Week gave the event yet another dimension. Ashes are deeply symbolic in the Judea/Christian story – we use them on Ash Wednesday to remind us that we are human and therefore must die – our life is continually changing. As the French president Monsieur Macron pointed out, history is still happening… things change. Good things happen, and bad things happen and life goes on. This morning, the people of Paris seemed full of life… buoyed up with gratitude and hope.. gratitude that the fire didn’t consume everything…and hope that out of the ashes the great building which embodies and reflects a living Christian faith, will rise again.
I can’t help hoping that somehow, this terrible event, will stir in people’s hearts a memory of the power of how love triumphs over death, dust and ashes…. the message of the gospel. The community of people who will rebuild the cathedral will bring more to the city than chisels and hammers. Like the mediaeval masons and craftspeople who were here before them, they will bring with them a spirit of collaboration, dedication, and a passion for their work which will go on to inspire Christians and non christians alike. And what is to come may then be more glorious than that which is past.
On one of St Clements’ windows (The Lads Brigade Memorial window), the word Resurgam can be found. It means ‘I will rise’. Perhaps in the years to come we will look back on Holy Week 2019 – for the tragedy and the death of the beloved…and for the truth of the resurrection – the new life that springs continually from that which seems to nothing but dust and ashes.