God and Man at the Burning of Notre Dame


Andrew Donaldson

Born and raised in West Virginia, Andrew has since lived and traveled around the world several times over. Though frequently writing about politics out of a sense of duty and love of country, most of the time he would prefer discussions on history, culture, occasionally nerding on aviation, and his amateur foodie tendencies. He can usually be found misspelling/misusing words on Twitter @four4thefire and his writing website Yonderandhome.com

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31 Responses

  1. Avatar Em Carpenter says:

    Beautifully written. If I’m ever fortunate enough to travel to Paris I am more determined than ever to see the cathedral, in whatever state of repair it may be in by then.

    I’m reading about what was saved or survived the fire, and its remarkable that the most famous parts- the rose windows, the bell towers, the organ, not to mention the artifacts like the Crown of Thorns- have all made it through without catastrophic damage. Divine intervention, maybe.Report

    • fillyjonk fillyjonk in reply to Em Carpenter says:

      Also the fact that the fire was discovered, and people alerted, before a group (apparently) went in for a tour, and the docents or whatever you called them basically shut the doors and told them not to go in. The only serious injury I heard of was a firefighter and as far as I can determine he is going to pull through. I consider the fact that there has been (as far as I know) no loss of life a similarly miraculous thing.

      I saw someone make the comment that the cathedral was meaningful to them, even though they were not a believer, because “it shows you what people can do when they are acting out of love” and I think yeah, that’s part of its meaning for me: one of the great achievements of humanity.Report

  2. Avatar Mike Dwyer says:

    Great post Andrew, though if I may quibble, I disliked the interlude in the middle about churches being intentionally destroyed in places. It would be a shame if this unifying tragedy spawned unpleasant theories about terrorism beyond the dark corners of the internet that are already speculating on them. Arson or terrorism have thus far been ruled out and I hope it stays that way.

    As a non-practicing Catholic, obviously this is a painful event. As a lover of history it is a punch in the gut. I read yesterday that every timber in the ‘forest’ of the roof framing came from a different tree that were around 300 years old, and those trees would have sprouted around 800-900 AD, during the same century that Vikings sailed up the Seine to attack Paris in 845 AD. Oh to have laid hands on those once before they were gone.Report

    • I didnt include it to spawn conspiracy theories, but to reinforce the point that places of worship hold symbolic meanings and places beyond just functionality to a populace and people. I purposefully included the Irish example of a recent church fire under restoration during a holy week which is similar to what this looks like.

      I agree with you about the beams, that woods was amazing. Report

      • Avatar Mike Dwyer in reply to Andrew Donaldson says:

        Fair enough…

        The farm I hunt on has a brick house that was built in 1800. The first floor joists were each made from a single tree that was split in half. The side facing down was left natural. I don’t even know if they bothered to strip off the bark, although it is gone now. If you go into the cellar those joists are all still visible and you can imagine how long those trees grew before they were cut down. Every time I put my hand on them I get chills. I can only imagine what it was like for the people that were fortunate enough to do the same at Notre Dame.Report

    • Avatar George Turner in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

      That was a great piece of writing!

      In the OT pool, I’m going with a Bosch lithium ion battery pack in the charging cradle next to a can of Minwax spar varnish. The workers stopped at 5:00 or 5:30 and the fire alarm went off at 6:20, so the timing is about right for something like that.

      I was surprised that the contractor handling the renovations was only 32 years old.

      Daily Mail article

      He might have a slight PR problem on future bids, although I recall that some Parker Seal salesperson once quipped “We sank the Titanic and blew up the Space Shuttle. We can do anything!” They made the O-rings for the SRB’s and built the massive equipment for raising, lower, and tilting the ship in James Cameron’s movie. I can see the guy saying “We got a whole new roof for Notre Dame, so what can we do for your next project?”

      Needless to say, the original builders didn’t know not to use cordless tools in that roof area, but can you imagine what risks they must’ve run relying on candles or lanterns to light up a work space that was otherwise pitch dark? Heck, I’d have smelled their breath after lunch just to make sure they wouldn’t be stumbling through that forest of timbers on half a bottle of wine.

      Not all the timbers would’ve completely burned, so now there will be a pile of genuine pieces of Notre Dame that date bake to 800-900 AD. I’m thinking the gift shop is going to make a fortune off those. I’d buy one. Millions of people would buy one. Countless churches would pay a whole lot of money to have a cross or part of a pulpit made from a Notre Dame timber. Not that they need the money. Already over $600 million has been pledged for repairs.


  3. Avatar Chip Daniels says:

    A word that comes to mind is “palimpsest”, a manuscript that has been washed out, and written over sometimes several times. Usually the underlying text is still visible faintly so the effect is like a chorus of voices reciting the narrative simultaneously.

    Most old buildings are palimpsests. One here is LA I worked in had a facade that was a fine example of 1930s Moderne, but when you turn the corner into what was once an alley, you see the original 1890s Beaux-Arts facade which had not been stripped. And when you move throughout the building you see bits and fragments of various remodels and restorations over the decades; A furnace from the 1940s, an office interior from the 60’s, a retail store from the 80s.

    Notre Dame was already a palimpsest, with its various renovations from Viollet Le Duc and others. Sometimes preservation is misunderstood as freezing a building in time, but actually buildings are living things that grow and evolve and change over time.Report

  4. Avatar Tracy Downey says:

    I’m in Napa Valley inside a Black Bear diner, listening to Cheryl Crowe’s Everyday is a Winding Road, nibbling on bread pudding with my mother while absorbing your beautiful piece, Andrew. If only we could preserve monuments, churches, homes, and people that we love somehow through our words, photographs, simple conversations, and memories.Report

  5. Great piece. I saw some commentary yesterday asking why we mourn when a thing is destroyed. It’s because the things represent the work of thousands of people (especially Notre Dame where most would never live to see it completed). It represents something meaningful to millions. It is our connection to a sort of vicarious longevity — living through the things we create and admire that outlast us. It is absolutely right to mourn them if they are damaged or destroyed.Report

  6. Avatar pillsy says:

    Just superb, Andrew.Report

  7. PS – Nice nod to Buckley with the title.Report

  8. Avatar Kolohe says:

    Someone was finally correct on twitter – this piece is really good.Report

  9. It can be rebuilt to be just as beautiful, just as spiritual, and a lot safer to boot. The 13th century is historically fascinating, but it was no holier than the 21st; far less so if you consider torture and murder to be the most serious offenses against God.Report

    • I found myself in an argument this morning with someone who wants the roof framing to be as close to what burned as possible — oak beams, hand tools, 13th century joinery. I understand what end that serves, but disagree with it. It’s still going to be a 21st century approximation. The design will have to change to accommodate the kinds of timbers available today, the timbers won’t be treated the same way to make them rot/bug resistant, all hand labor is both expensive and takes much longer. Myself, I’m in favor of using the best contemporary tech available, and design with an eye to piece-by-piece replacement in a century or three. I have no problem with a Notre Dame that has a carbon-fiber composite frame for the roof.Report

      • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to Michael Cain says:

        There was a long running debate in architectural circles about how best to complete Antonio Gaudi’s La Sagrada Familia cathedral which was left unfinished at his death.

        Essentially the positions were “Complete it as he would have” vs “Complete it as we today would have”.

        I fell into the latter camp since as above, almost all buildings are constantly evolving and are all the more charming for it.Report

  10. Avatar George Turner says:

    While under repairs, they’ve decided to put a tarp on it.

    I hope it’s a blue one from Home Depot. ^_^

    I saw an official there say they’re leaning toward an electrical short, possibly in the temporary elevator that the workmen use.

    New York arrested a philosophy teacher who was trying to walk into a cathedral with two gasoline cans. There are bound to be some really good jokes in there somewhere.Report