On this Easter Sunday, it’s hard not to reflect on the burning of Notre Dame Cathedral this past Monday. Watching the live feeds come across the television screen was a gut-wrenching feeling to say the least. It felt as if it was something more than a roof-top fire consuming an historic cathedral. For as sacred as the church is to the Catholic and Christian faith, it’s also a symbol. This magnificent edifice is a symbol of the culture, heritage and times in which it was erected.
Notre Dame’s construction started sometime between March 24th and April 25th, 1163 or exactly 856 years ago. Completed more than a hundred years later, it’s a testament to the people who dedicated their lives to its creation. With the Renaissance still some 150 years off, Notre Dame entered existence in the High Middle Ages. By the time Johannes Gutenberg (1400-1468) invented the printing press in circa 1440 and by the time of Michelangelo’s birth in 1475 (both Renaissance geniuses), Notre Dame had already been standing more than 250 years!
The builders and tradesmen commenced its construction harboring the spirit of their era. They thought beyond their existence for they knew they would never live to see it to completion. They believed in the glory of God and with that they believed in something greater than themselves. Theirs was not a nihilistic view of nothingness, but a view in the belief of eternity and the boundless spirit of humankind. It’s within this cradle of thought that the full glory of Western culture came to blossom.
From Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) to William Shakespeare (1564-1616), from Voltaire (1694-1778) to Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827), we discover the same spiritual underpinnings as Notre Dame. For their vitality and vigor, with which these and other giants of Western civilization lived, embody the essence of those same people who toiled and sweated their lives away building Notre Dame. These builders were ahead of their time; they were the role models of the Renaissance with all its wondrous art, music and knowledge to come. It is they who built the foundation of the West.
By all accounts Notre Dame was in dire need of repair. It stood rundown and dilapidated as a result of decades of neglect. It appears we took it for granted. We gazed at it in marvel, but never thought much of its maintenance. Is this perhaps a symptom of something wider in our culture? Is Notre Dame’s burning a wake-up call for us in the West to treat our culture with the respect and admiration it deserves? Are we neglecting our legacy? Only our conscious can know the answers to these questions.
So on this Easter Sunday, we may wish to pause and contemplate the sacrifices our forebears underwent for us, for they bequeathed these marvels to us. It was their drive to demonstrate the glory of God through their creations that blessed us with the reverence for achievement and the seeking of truth (see When Truth Fades…). And in the same manner, may it also be their belief in Christ’s Resurrection that resurrects a kindred spirit within us.
Yes, Notre Dame is definitely more than a cathedral…
Happy Easter and Happy Passover!
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