Centuries-old cathedral goes up in flames

The Notre Dame cathedral in Paris, which some may say brings them closer, looked like hell on April 15. The 800-year-old Gothic cathedral spewed flames and smoke for nearly five hours as a fire raged within.

The fire started between 6:30 and 7 p.m. Paris time, according to The Associated Press (AP), and destroyed much of the cathedral’s roof that consisted of 800-year-old oak timbers and lead. At 7:49 p.m. the towering spire, added by architect Eugène Viollet-le-Duc in the 19th century, collapsed in a shower of sparks amid sickly yellow smoke.

The global reaction to the church’s devastation was passionate. Heads of state from around the world announced or tweeted their condolences to, and support of, the French people. The disaster was “a loss for all of us,” said South Korean President Moon Jae-in, according to AP.

“The Holy See has seen with shock and sadness the news of the terrible fire that has devastated the Cathedral of Notre Dame, a symbol of Christianity in France and in the world,” the Vatican said in a statement.

Instagrammers took to social media, posting pictures of visits to the cathedral – or simply an image of the cathedral itself – with crying-faced emoji or mournful comments.

“What relationship to a building can one forge by visiting it once or twice? I wonder if such strong reaction and oversharing of [the April 15 tragedy has more to do about bragging of having traveled to Paris than mourning an iconic architectural monument,” Marian Lefeld, an art and art history professor at Richland College, said of the Instagrammers.

Meanwhile, French President Emmanuel Macron has vowed to repair the damage to the cathedral. Fashion tycoons Francois Pinault and Bernard Arnault have pledged 100 million and 200 million euros, respectively, according to AP.

“The eight-hundred-year-old church has undergone multiple restorations and extensive repairs, not always in keeping with its original 13th century plans. I wonder if those sharing a selfie trying to ‘pinch’ the spire knew it dated back to the 19th century?” Lefeld said. “Notre Dame will be restored and will be better, more beautiful than ever.”

According to AP, experts and novices alike are hopeful for the future, understanding that the cathedral can and will be rebuilt. The fire is simply the latest disaster to hit this venerated house of worship and popular tourist destination.

In the meantime, Lefeld said, she views the disaster as a wakeup call.

“I also wish to see such strong reactions to the many tragedies surrounding us today,” she said. “I long for a similar, powerful, world-wide response to global warming, inequality, human rights, the humanitarian and political crisis in Venezuela, worldwide hunger, poverty, deforestation, etc. But I guess most of us do not have a selfie to share about those less-popular issues. I’m afraid so many other issues that need our attention do not resonate with such power and will continue existing in the margins of our egos.”