People kneel on the pavement
People kneel on the pavement as they pray outside watching flames engulf Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris on April 15, 2019. Image Credit: AFP

The massive outpouring of grief over the fire that consumed the Notre-Dame Cathedral is testimony to the fact that what Paris lost was not just an architectural icon but also part of its soul.

The cathedral is steeped in history, housing priceless artefacts that can never be replaced. Vowing to rebuild the French President Emmanuel Macron called it “the epicentre of our lives.” For the French and for the millions of visitors who have stood gaping at the magnificent Gothic structure and the stained-glass windows, the catastrophe is a wound that will take a long time to heal.

But the anguish that was expressed by people around the world showed that Notre Dame cathedral was no ordinary place of worship. It was a monument that witnessed history, kings and queens were crowned and married there. Napoleon and his wife Josephine were among those crowned at the altar. In fact, the cathedral was history itself. EU Council President Donald Tusk summed up the collective feelings of millions around the world: “The burning of the Notre Dame Cathedral has again made us aware that we are bound by something more important and more profound than treaties.”

Once before, in the early 1800s, Notre Dame was half-ruined. Then Victor Hugo used the crumbling structure as the setting for one of his greatest works, ‘The Hunchback of Notre Dame’, which set in motion a rescue operation nearly as a grand as its original construction. Today, tens of millions of dollars have already been promised to rescue the cathedral. But it will take the best brains and the silent prayer of millions of faithful to restore this Gothic structure to the wonder that it once was.