I stared down at my phone in stunned horror.
"The Notre Dame is burning down!" I said to my husband, who scoffed.
"That's just a stupid prank someone is pulling on you," he said.
But it was true. We watched the live stream, the flames leaping in a sinuous ballet up the spire and the raging ball of fire above the nave. We gasped with the crowds when the spire fell onto and through the priceless and irreplaceable medieval roof. When we went to bed it was still burning.
This morning, listening to the six o'clock news, we heard a reporter say, "My feeling is one of relief. She's still there. She's still standing. The fire is out."
President Macron said, "The worse has been avoided."
Much was saved, and nobody died, although a fire fighter has been seriously injured.
The devastating damage and near destruction of this symbol of the Christian faith becomes more significant in Holy Week. The Notre Dame is not just an icon of Paris, but of its Catholic heritage – a faith which has lasted down the centuries, even though Paris, like all cities, is now blessedly multi-cultural. The Christian Faith holds that Christ died, but then, three days later, He rose again, bringing hope and joy.
This lovely Cathedral is only a symbol. A beautiful symbol, but not the thing itself. She is a part of the city, but not the city itself. The city is the people and the Church is the people. Buildings are only the habitation for people and the storage for the art that people create.
A much smaller incident happened last year at my daughters' school: the art block burned down, destroying all the art and textile projects that were part of the GCSE submissions. Special provisions had to be made for those students affected. My elder daughter's friend was in tears over the loss of his artwork. He had poured himself into those paintings and drawings – they were the best he could do – and now they were gone.
But the human race is an art-making animal. We cannot help but make art: it's what we do. This friend is still creating; he is still drawing and painting. Maybe he has not recreated the works he lost, but he has gone on to do something different and something even better.
The Notre Dame too will be rebuilt; rebuilt differently, as she must be, but rebuilt with beauty and with joy.
And, in Holy week, we have another symbol of the triumph of hope over destruction. Our Lady of Paris is down, but not out. And, while it will take many years and not just three days, she will rise again.
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