I learned about the disastrous fire at Notre Dame today, as I learned about the collapse of the Twin Towers 9-11-01. In neither case, did I see the images until long after the event, and then the reality set in.
My father is 100% French-Canadian, so France is not an abstraction to me. At the same time, of my siblings, I’m the only one who’s never been to Notre Dame, Paris or France. The closest I come is the view on the treadmill of assorted walking and bike routes in France.
But when I heard of the fire, I thought of some old snapshots taken by my brother-in-law Mike Lund when he was in the Army about 1972. Here’s one of his GI snapshots:
Mike was just a GI on leave from his base in Germany. He wasn’t Catholic, but for some reason this Cathedral caught his attention, and in a small box of photos he left behind there were about eight snaps, most of which were labeled, which were of Notre Dame. Here they are: Notre Dame and the Seine001.
Many, perhaps you, have been to Notre Dame, and perhaps these eight photos will bring back some of your own memories. Unfortunately, this is the closest I will ever come to seeing what was the real Notre Dame.
POSTNOTE: Already it is being stated that this 850 year old church will be reconstructed. This remains to be seen of course. Just an idea to think about. Years ago another iconic Cathedral, St. Boniface in Metro Winnipeg, went up in flames, only the shell saved. The idea came to someone to save the shell, and to rebuild a new church inside the shell. It was, and it remains, a magnificent place, regardless of one’s religious belief or fervor. Here’s a bit about it.
POSTNOTE TWO: Bro-in-Law Mike was an interesting character. In his later years – he died at 60 in 2007 – he described himself a “lone wolf”, and didn’t think anyone would come to his funeral. He would have been surprised by this exposition of his photos! He had his college degree, was a successful GI, and had taught school for a time. Ultimately mental illness helped assure his life of anonymity, which he seemed to prefer. He neither fit in, nor stood out. Personally, I much enjoyed our visits, and at the end I was the ‘go-to’. I think he’d sort of enjoy knowing that his snapshots from Paris near 50 years ago would be of interest now, even if only to me. I have more, of other things. Maybe later. Happy Easter.
COMMENTS (see also WordPress comments, below)
from Jane: When Mike and I were there we went under the sanctuary to where the ancient Celtic church had once been. Their churches likely burned too. I don’t mean to sound glib. I admit I cried when I heard the news.
response from Dick: Cathedrals, regardless of denomination, whether called Cathedral or something else, are living manifestations of the very abundant downside of organized religion. I happen to be lifelong and pretty active Catholic which, to me, represents what I feel are the best sides of the church, long flourishing in things like Catholic hospitals and other service organizations emphasizing justice and peace everywhere. But every religious institution, regardless of “ideology”, seems to have a tendency towards addiction to power and control. The French church was no stranger to this. This whole topic could/would be a very long, very rich, and probably end with very irresolvable tension, though I would welcome the conversation. There are as many opinions as there are people.
from Kathy: from a friend sending a photo from Paris 3:08 p.m. April 15: We just went through the cathedral today. We’re flying home tomorrow.
Cathedrals are (as your pillars of the earth stories tell you) always works in progress. I am always reminded of my visits to Rome
And to the Basilica of St Clement Lateran. This church is about 4 to 5 blocks south of the coliseum. You can go underneath the church
To visit the previous church constructed in about 400 AD, and then below that to an early Christian church, and then below that to a Cult of
Mithras temple. And below that or near it in time Roman civil structures, and underneath all of it a spring… which archaelogists surmise
May have been an even more ancient druidic/natural religious site in pre Roman times.
Also mindful of the photos of the “black hole” in space. We are but a speck of a speck of dust mon ami!
Such personal grief for me at the immense destruction at Notre Dame Cathedral… Here are my photos [to be added] of the gorgeous sculpture by the front door and a photo of Mike and I in 2001 feeling joyful at a cafe right next to Notre Dame. This is the foundation and heartbeat of France, my adopted second culture -which has led much of my career. I lived there for a year at the age of 19 and was overjoyed to find a country that loved beauty, the arts, and history. A soulmate.
Did you know that distances in France are calculated by how far they are from Notre Dame? -The center of a country at the center of Western culture. I think of Parisian families that may have 32 generations that have passed that cathedral!! ( 800 years x 4 generations of 25 yrs.) The hopeful part is that in reconstructing this sacred place new young people will be recruited to learn the ancient skills of construction and thus carry on some of the medieval skills.
One more memory. Mike and I walked down below the foundations of Notre Dame to where ancient Roman and Celtic temples had once been. The site itself has been holy for thousands of years and that won’t change.
MORE COMMENTS BELOW.