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“I believe that this church offers the carefully discerning such cause for admiration,” the 14th-century French philosopher Jean de Jandun wrote of Notre Dame, “that its inspection can scarcely sate the soul.”

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Rich Lowry

A cultural calamity played out on live TV when the Paris cathedral that has been a focal point of Christendom for so long was apparently gutted by a raging fire, destroying a significant part of an inheritance built up over hundreds of years in a few hours.

Notre Dame stands for so many qualities that we now lack — patience and staying power, the cultivation of beauty, a deep religious faith, the cultural confidence and ambition to build a timeless monument of our civilization — that the collapse of its spire was almost too much to bear.

The great novelist Victor Hugo, who did so much to revive interest in the cathedral when it was in disrepair in the 19th century, wrote how “every surface, every stone of this venerable pile, is a page of the history not only of the country, but of science and art.”

It was the work of generations, completed across three centuries, in a triumph over considerable architectural and logistical challenges. It arose at the original site of a pagan temple. Thousands of tons of stone had to be transported from outside Paris, one ox cart or barge at a time. To achieve its soaring height and hold up its ceiling and walls, it relied on the architectural innovations of the rib vault and flying buttress.

France built 80 cathedrals and 500 large churches across this period, but there was only one Notre Dame of Paris, a Gothic jewel whose towers, prior to the advent of the Eiffel Tower, were the tallest structure in the city.

It is — or, one hates to think, was — adorned by what are significant cultural artifacts in their own right.

The statuary meant to illustrate the story of the Bible, and to awe worshippers who couldn’t read.

The stained-glass windows that took ingenuity to embed in stone walls and are themselves artistic marvels.

The organ with more than 8,000 pipes.

The bells, with their own names, including the largest, the masterpiece Emmanuel, dating back to the 15th century and recast in 1681.

Not to mention the religious relics that mean so much to the Catholic faithful.

It has been the site of countless processions and services to petition and thank God on behalf of the French nation. It was where illustrious marriages and funerals occurred, where Napoleon crowned himself emperor, where Charles de Gaulle attended a mass to celebrate the liberation of Paris in 1944, rifle fire echoing outside.

It survived the rampages of iconoclastic Huguenots in the 16th century, the depredations of radicals during the French Revolution in the 18th century (they transformed it into a shrine to the Cult of Reason, used it as a warehouse and wanted to melt down the bells) and incidental damage during two world wars in the 20th century.

All the while, it accumulated layers of history and meaning. Its great advocate Hugo, author of the famous “Hunchback of Notre Dame,” wrote of how “the greatest productions of architecture are not so much the work of individuals as of a community; are rather the offspring of a nation’s labour than the out-come of individual genius; the deposit of a whole people; the heaped-up treasure of centuries; the residuum left by the successive evaporations of human society; in a word, a species of formations. Each wave of time leaves its coating of alluvium, each race deposits its layers on the monuments, each individual contributes his stone to it.”

Notre Dame has been thoughtfully restored and preserved over the years, to our credit. But it’s difficult not to discern a distressing message in the wanton destruction that ravaged the iconic cathedral — what prior generations so carefully and faithfully built, we are losing.

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Syndicated columnist Rich Lowry can be reached at


(8) comments


If Europeans know how to do one thing, its to rebuild their great structures. Over the many years of wars and destruction, Europeans have rebuild many churches to their previous glory. And the same will happen again. Its is curious how Lowry and the rest of the press failed to cover the fire in Israel on the same day, at the dome of the rock Mosque. It wasn't as big a fire or destructive, but there was a fire at that holy site also. Lowry also failed to mention also the three traditionally African American churches that were set afire last week in Louisiana by a young white racist. Truly that also deserved to be brought to people's attention and deserved mourning. ! Funny how selective people can be when they grieve the loss or destruction of places of worship.


This shocking fire in one of the greatest symbols of civilization was indeed a painful thing to witness. I saw something today that said $700 million in donations to rebuild it have already been pledged to restore it. Good.

I find it a bit disconcerting, however, that Mr. Lowry (and crank, for that matter) can display a bit of hearfelt emotion and empathy here over the wreckage of property, but you rarely or ever see them express any empathy for the vast waves of human wreckage that are awash in the world today as refugees. It makes me wonder what would happen if some horrible catastrophe knocked down our Statue of Liberty. I could imagine a lot of well-to-do conservatives rushing in to rebuild our great symbol for empathy and freedom for all peoples, and I would applaud them for doing so. But I fear they care more for the symbol than what it symbolizes. And that is how I feel about Mr. Lowry in this case.


Me 2.


If they are like me, they have empathy for those who are suffering and in need of security. Especially children. However, we feel more empathy for innocent American citizens, of all races, who suffer and die from some of those who come here illegally. Humans are driven by pleasure and pain on a biological level. We choose the path that has the least pain or greatest pleasure. The pain of American citizens suffering at the hands of people who are not legally or rightfully supposed to be there trumps all (no pun intended).

Your view, on the other hand, seems to value illegal immigrants and refugees over American citizens. I can't help but think that's a result of a lifetime of political shaping. It's a shame and unnatural to value your fellow citizens life less than illegal and foreign immigrants. You can't have it both ways.


D you are just conjuring up a crisis that is not there, you are just towing the line for Trump. Humans are not driven by pleasure and pain, animals are and its called instinct. How shallow can one person get. So killings from Americans to other Americans do not well up as much empathy from you as killings from illegal migrants. Mass shootings from white national racists that kill Americans doesn't seem to matter as much to you as a killing from a migrant. See how twisted your thinking is. Migrants have a right to seek asylum when their lives are in danger. You are trying to justify the inhumane treatment of migrants, and want to make them a little less human to justify your hatred towards them. No murder trumps another murder (no pun intended). We are all one race and one humanity and have the same needs, to live in hope and peace and provide for our families. That is what churches and Mosques represent, its too bad you want to use this tragedy (fire at Notre Dame) to be divisive instead of inclusive.


You lost the bet, D. Get off and stay off these boards for a week. You may, however, read martian's 5:23pm post. Take heed of it, as you need to learn from him.


It is difficult to imagine and fully appreciate the history of this landmark. The cathedral is/was an amazing feat in so many respects. It's story predates our own nation.'s existence by centuries. Remarkable!


Over 800 years old!

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