Saving Notre Dame de Paris


Some of you may have been wondering why I haven’t posted in a while. In truth I had planned to rest over the weekend and come back on Monday with a couple of in-depth feature articles; however, as you can see it is now the following Friday and nothing else has materialised (And I’m not promising anything more this weekend). I’m afraid a trip to hospital last Sunday due to a bout of viral meningitis put paid to my plans.

Also the fact I never wrote a word of what my features were going to be about; stored in my head – which means, until I am fully recovered I am unlikely to remember what they were about it, if I ever do. Note: Always write your thoughts down!

Today is Good Friday, which is where today’s post seemingly is, but as Christian’s we look forward to Easter/Resurrection Sunday – for out of the ashes shall rise the glorious phoenix.

Anyway, looks like I choose a great time to be ill – Notre Dame’s demise (reminiscent of York Minister, 1984) and all the obvious links between that and Grenfell which are being made ad-nasium on Social Media.

And I say ad-nasium because if I wasn’t already feeling queesy, they probably would be, whilst I am not unsympathetic to the point all these memes are trying to make, I do feel they are making a political point out of two tragedies.

Whilst one is horrific for its sensless loss of life; the other for the it’s damage to one of the Medieval world’s wonders of architecture – they can’t be compared; life is obviously more important. No amount of millions could replace life – and I’m not sure the former residents of Grenfell tower would want it rebuilt. Aside from the £21+ million already distributed to them; what would the other £780 million do?

What £800+ million can do is rebuild one of the great wonders of medieval architecture. Then there is the obvious issue of should we? If there are sick and hungry people dying on the streets of Paris, never mind anywhere else, should we really waste money rebuilding Notre Dame. My answer is simply – yes we should rebuild Notre Dame; more complex in my thinking I would add, we can feed the hungry; heal the sick and still rebuild Notre Dame – we can do both.

Rebuilding Notre-Dame de Paris (Our Lady in Paris) is more than the history – though it is a call to remember that history. It is more than the cost. It is more about what it represents as a symbol of what Notre Dame represents.

In this age where the Roman Catholic church is being remembered for all the wrong reasons; and yes it has done plenty of wrong in its 18+ Centuries of existence, its actually about what the Catholic Church has done and continues to do right.

The Catholic Church has always and continues to be one of the largest supporters of the poor; the sick and the disabled globally – it has since the foundations of Notre Dame were laid given refuge to the homeless; those infirm and those who are hungry. Notre Dame during the hey-day of Catholic Europe would have put a roof over the heads of those without homes – something most Medivael Churches did; it would have had a poor box, to provide financial assistance to those without means. Monastics gave up time and space specifically to heal the sick as the first kind-of mass hospitals.

Christian’s such as myself, Catholic or Protestant, should remember the calling of the Church – to be salt and light to the nations; but also:

“…to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord ’s favour and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion – to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendour. They will rebuild the ancient ruins and restore the places long devastated; they will renew the ruined cities that have been devastated for generations.”

Isaiah 61:1‭-‬4 (NIVUK)

Some of those verses were quoted by Jesus in his first Sermon in Luke’s Gospel (4:18). And that’s what Notre Dame should represent – not because it hasn’t meant this for most of its life, but because that’s exactly why medieval cathedrals were built – forget the politics – the heart behind the politics – forget the financiers – think why the Roman Catholic Church of Medieval Europe desired to build churches – yes, they were it’s pacifistic castles; but they were where the people of God could gather and where they could proclaim Jesus but and almost more importantly they were the focal point of the work of the church in the community.

Notre Dame, however, is not just special because it was a homeless shelter; a place of worship; an early hospital; an early benefits centre – most if not almost all European churches of the time did these things and in that sense they all deserve to be preserved. Notre Dame however, like York Minster; like St Paul’s, London; Coventry Cathedral and many across Europe which have been destroyed and rebuilt – in the case of Notre Dame at least three times (now) if not more. And that is one of the great symbols it represents – from the ashes it rises.

Like Paris after the French Revolution; it’s disciples 100 years later; the second world war.

But more than Paris, it is a symbol of Europe having overcome the issues of two World Wars, having united all of Europe (pretty much) into one global superpower of equal trade and co-operation – that’s symbolised by Notre Dame.

More than this we must think about what would become of Notre Dame’s ruins, if it was decided not to rebuild it – would we waste time clearing the site, and preserving it as a ruin for generations to come, with all the cost that preservation comes with in the immediate not just future sense.

Then we would need to talk about the fact of ownership – Notre Dame is not actually owned by the Roman Catholic Church, despite being a Roman Catholic Church. It’s owned by the French republic – that is the government and people of France. The cost of this, whatever is decided is actually borne by the republic of France – whose primary responsibility should be its people; and the Catholic Church would view its own role there too, as serving the people.

Who is better placed to bare the cost – the republic or the Church; or as has been proposed here – those who have donated, the billionaires and millionaires – in theory relieving the state and Church of the burdon of repairs, thereby enabling the state and Church to continue their work of relieving the needy and poor.

Whilst these billionaires and millionaires could and should also be giving money to the poor – that is ultimately a matter for their own conscience, it is good too that they have shouldered the burden of this public building – as that will prevent the unnecessary re-focusing of the State and Churches own finances – meaning any money given by the billionaires and millionaires to support those in need is actually on top of the government and church service to the needy; rather than replacing them.

Whilst you may not agree with the existence of Billionaires and Millionaires – the fact is they do exist; and nothing will change that – surely relieving them of a few million to help the state and church is better than them keeping it in high-yeild tax havens and bank accounts?

How better to enable those who care for the poor best – the Churches – than to free them from the financial burden of repairing the symbol of that hope – that hope that lifts them higher? How better to serve the poor than by enabling the state to provide the welfare needed – rather than burden them with the financial difficulties of trying to fund the large scale renovation and restoration of one of the most important historic buildings in Western Europe (and there’s a fair few of them too)?

And I appreciate my answer here will not satisfy many – the sheer cost of restoration is seemingly extausionate, and £800 million may be a little much for a symbol – but it is not our money, it is the money of those millionaires and billionaires (whether legally or illegally obtained). And if they wish to pay for a symbol all power to them – you are not judged for the car you have bought, the TV or games console, why not celebrate rather than castigate those who invest in symbol of hope, rather than personal pleasure and gain? Repairing such a monument, would actually help the continued upkeep of the building, potentially lowering latter costs, for a few years at least. Aside from that – ruins don’t have quite the same power to captivate the imagination.

Ruins don’t lift the soul and bring people closer to God, as much as a living-breathing Church building. Especially when that building is filled with the people of Jesus – praising and praying together. Those people who are then called to go out into the world with the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ; with the message of the gospel – and who are called to put that Gospel into action – through caring for the needy, the poor, the broken, the imprisoned, the hungry and those without.

And as Christians we also have to ask ourselves, within reason – how much did the cross cost? And is £800 million really on a par with that cost, I don’t believe so – so if we as Christians are calling on the world to heed the Cost of the Cross; how much is a symbol of that greatest of sacrifices worth? I’m not sure we can put a price on a symbol that points to Jesus, on a symbol that shops the hope of the Cross so elegantly, especially one which has such an age. I would not advise such a cost today for a new Cathedral – but to preserve the heritage and all that that symbolises, to restore that and show that destruction (symbolic of sin, shame and guilt) is not the end of the story is surely more important than our own left-leanings.

Whilst I appreciate that this is all my opinion, and yes I still cough at the cost, and it does make me a little sick. But I have to remind myself that God is sovereign and his word and will shall be accomplished in this matter. I sincerely believe that he not only wants the restoration of Notre-Dame de Paris, but also of all those listed in Isaiah, but also of the whole world. And I believe that the restoration of Notre-Dame is a-part of that calling, that light we are to be to the nations as Christians. Notre-Dame can serve as a beacon to the message of the cross, the message of resurrection, ultimatley, the message of Salvation through in Christ alone.

And like the Cross – and the resurrection of Jesus – what better way to symbolically represent the power of a resurrection to lift the soul, in a world so desperately in need of that hope?

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