Eight hundred fifty-six years ago in a time far removed from anything we could ever imagine today, the creation of the magnificent cathedral of Notre Dame began to be built during the reign of King Louis VII. The structure, as was common for buildings of that size, was not completed for 182 years, in 1346. Large structures such as castles, palaces, and cathedrals took decades to complete as the sourcing of stone and wood took many years, as well as the vast wealth that it took to build such marvels of modern ingenuity.
When I see tragic events happen like the major fire that burned and almost destroyed the Cathedral on the 15th of April, I think about a bygone era where life and faith were more straightforward. This Cathedral was being built during the age of Crusades in the Holy Land; it was before the Renaissance and the Age of Discovery when the known world was confined to Europe, the northern fringes of Africa and the Westernmost portions of Asia. Islam was dominating much of civilization from the Holy Land across North Africa and up into Spain. Frederick I (Barbarossa) was the Holy Roman Emperor in the late 1150s and ruled over Germany and Italy. Famous Saints like Thomas Aquinas learned and lived in Paris when he went to school at the University of Paris, also founded by Louis VII. This beautiful Gothic masterpiece which I have only seen in pictures and movies was built and has stood through the turmoils of many centuries. The flying buttresses of the Cathedral are one of the last remaining examples today used in the gothic architecture of that period.
The Cathedral of Notre Dame houses some of the most important relics in all of modern Christendom (both then and now), a nail from the cross of Christ, a piece of the cross, and remnants of the Crown of Thorns. The Cathedral has many more pieces of history, religion, and artwork stored there but these were by far the most precious. History aside, the Cathedral was finished in the early 1300s over 150 years before the Protestant Reformation, in a time where Christianity and Catholicism were synonymous, and there was but one firm understanding of Christian belief.
The Churches of yesteryear rose from the work of hands of craftsman from several generations of families whilst the churches of today are built in 3-6 month’s. I often find myself feeling as if I am in an auditorium instead of a church. Why are we more reverent or in awe when we go to a cathedral then when we are in our parish? They are both houses of God. The Cathedral of Notre Dame or any Church of great renown has a beauty and majesty that is rarely ever recreated in modern architecture.
With the many schisms of different Christian denominations that are so rampant in our society, Non-Catholic Christians don’t believe in transubstantiation, and thus their churches are hollow and don’t house the Real Presence. Churches are tucked in store front’s or are repurposed from once being a church to selling furniture or becoming a residence. By saying all of this, it does not mean that a Catholic needs to be in a beautiful and ornate Cathedral to relish in the Presence of Christ, nor that humble churches are not godly because that is quite wrong. If Christ is present in the Eucharist, then that is all that matters. As a society, I am merely pointing out the differences.
We should marvel at the mastery and beauty of such a marvelous creation that has stood like a candle in the darkness against centuries of oppression from the wars of religion in France through the French Revolution, the Napoleonic Wars, and both World Wars. In a time of such great moral turpitude in the Catholic Church, the rebuilding of Notre Dame can be as a symbol for the reconstruction of our spiritual souls as a global community of faith.