Vatican Corner 04-28-2019

In Paris on April 15, 2019 a devastating fire burned Notre-Dame de Paris (‘Our Lady of Paris’) the famous 856 –year old Gothic cathedral, and one of the most recognizable churches in the world. The fire broke out just before 7 pm. local time and by 8 pm. the spire which stood 226 feet tall had fallen. Four hundred firefighters fought the blaze and their efforts were initially hampered by the extreme height of the cathedral roof which prevented them from reaching the flames. The fire burned through the network of enormous centuries-old oak beams supporting the roof. The roof had been built by medieval craftsmen using 5,000 oak trees. Some of the vaulted stone ceiling below the wood roof collapsed and stones fell off the sides of the cathedral. The surrounding neighborhood had to be closed off. The roof collapsed and the fire continued to burn but was eventually brought under control shortly after midnight, and completely extinguished several hours later. Through the firemen’s courageous efforts the main bell towers and the historic edifice were saved. Most of the stone vaults of the inner ceiling seem to be ok. The stained-glass rose windows dating from the 13th century were spared. In the next few days architects and construction workers were able to stabilize the structure to eliminate the danger of the edifice walls falling. The fire turned out not to be as terrible as first feared and the main structure survived, but experts say it may take 10 or 15 years for the cathedral to be fully restored. The cathedral had been undergoing extensive restorative work and the major religious and artistic treasures of the cathedral were removed before the fire had begun. Relics normally kept in the cathedral include a crown of thorns believed to have been worn by Christ before the crucifixion and a piece of wood believed to be part of the cross on which Christ was crucified. Among the countless works of art and historical artifacts within the cathedral is a 17th century organ with all of its parts still functional. It is not yet known what precious items have been lost but it seems most of the relics and religious items survived. During and after the fire, outside of the security area, large crowds of Parisian Catholic gathered kneeling to pray and singing devotional hymns to Our Lady. Archbishop Aupetit of Paris asked the priests of Paris to ring their church bells as a public invitation to prayer. Cardinal DiNardo, president of the U.S. bishops’ conference called the fire “horrific.” He called the cathedral not only a majestic Church, but a world treasure. “Noble in architecture and art, it has long been a symbol of the transcendent human spirit as well as our longing for God.” Pope Francis wrote that he is aware that the fire caused serious damage not only to what is a historic site, but “a national symbol dear to the hearts of Parisians and French people in the diversity of their convictions.” He said “I join you in your sadness,” and he hopes the cathedral will be reconstructed to become once again “this beautiful settng in the heart of the city, a sign of faith of those who built it, mother church of your diocese, architectural and spiritual heritage of Paris, France and humanity.” Service for Good Friday was held outdoors at the Cathedral, with one of the saved relics featured prominently in a procession. Liturgies for Good Friday and Saturday’s Easter vigil were moved to the Basilica of St. Sulpice near the Cathedral. That Basilica was itself burned the previous month by an arsonist causing more than a million dollars of damage to its doors and 18th century woodwork and stained glass. to be continued