This is probably an (incredibly) inappropriate time to say, “hot take,” but I have opinions on Notre Dame.
In case I already lost any of you, let me preface this by saying that losing any kind of history is a tragedy. The fire that ate Notre Dame cathedral was just that — a tragedy. Incredible and irreplaceable pieces of art, engineering and architecture have been lost and should be mourned.
But Notre Dame itself is not lost. The structural fire burned for 15 hours and took the spire, along with most of the roof and damaged the upper walls of the church, but the façade still stands. The stone vaulted ceilings prevented extensive damage to the interior. The rose window remains intact. No lives were lost.
The fire broke out on April 15. Within a week, over 1 billion euros had been donated to the cathedral’s reconstruction. Over six wealthy families made up a huge chunk of pledges, each one donating at least 10 million euros. Even the current presidential administration promised to provide aid.
While it’s wonderful that so much is being done and donated in order to rebuild Our Lady of Paris, there was never a question of whether Notre Dame would be rebuilt. Notre Dame has always been rebuilt.
The iconic spire, which collapsed, was itself a 19th century replacement for the one taken down in 1780 due to deterioration. The Gallery of Kings on the main façade were deliberately damaged in the French Revolution and also restored in the 19th century. The building is a patchwork of different eras.
Thankfully, some artwork had been removed from the cathedral in preparation for renovations. Most of the cathedral’s sacred relics were stored in the adjoining sacristy, which the fire never reached. All the cathedral’s relics were saved, including the Crown of Thorns said to be the one Jesus wore at his crucifixion. But according to an article from the French publication, Le Monde, many of the valuables that were not removed also survived, though the state of everything is still unknown.
Still some pieces of history that were spared from the fire, for example, Notre Dame’s famous and centuries-old organ, suffered severe damage and will never be the same. According to an article on NPR, the organ’s wind chest suffered water damage when the firefighters fought to quell the catastrophic fire. But even looking at the organ, few parts of it are original. The current instrument was built in the 19th century during a restoration. It’s a combination of parts old and new, along with more than a few modern modifications.
Whenever a fire occurs, it takes a community to help rebuild. Thanks to the donations, French President Emmanuel Macron declared that the historic cathedral will be rebuilt in five years and be “even more beautiful than it was.”
Some structures aren’t always as lucky. In the month before the fire in Paris three historically black churches in Louisiana were destroyed by a racist arsonist. A GoFundMe fundraiser was set up on April 10, initially aiming to raise $600,000 to be divided equally to restore the three churches. Less than $150,000 was raised until a few days following the Notre Dame fire, where the campaign skyrocketed to over $2 million.
Prompted by the quick fundraising for Notre Dame as people watched wealthy families pour millions into the restoration project, thousands were inspired to donate to the churches in Louisiana. But these efforts wouldn’t have happened without the buzz it received on social media by being compared to Notre Dame.
Other historic buildings that have been recently lost to fires and have not yet received the same fundraising include The National Museum of Brazil, which burned last year, and Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque, which was built in 1035 C.E. and is considered the third holiest site in Islam, which burned on the same day as the Paris cathedral.
If you want to donate to restoring and maintaining history, Notre Dame will always be fine. There are plenty of other places that need your help.
Grace Nakahara is an A&E editor. Folllow her on Twitter: @A_E_is_News.