Remembering Notre Dame Cathedral as a Place of Worship, History, and Art

Firefighters tackle the blaze as flames and smoke rise from Notre Dame Cathedral as it burns in Paris on April 15, 2019. (AP Photo/Michel Euler)

The Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, a prime example of Gothic architecture and the seat of Paris’ Roman Catholic archbishop, was engulfed in flames on Monday (April 15). What is its history, its significance and how have cathedrals like it recovered from disaster?

When was Notre Dame built?

Its cornerstone was laid in 1163, and work continued through the 14th century, when its large flying buttresses — its famous arched exterior supports — were installed. The cathedral’s 850th anniversarywas celebrated in 2013. It has been the most visited monument in France, according to the Paris Convention and Visitors Bureau.

What key events have been held at Notre Dame?

Napoleon was crowned French emperor there in 1804. Joan of Arc was beatified in the cathedral by Pope Pius X in 1909, centuries after she had helped France fight the English and been burned at the stake. Gen. Charles de Gaulle attended a Mass at Notre Dame when the French celebrated the liberation of Paris from the Nazis in 1944. It has been the site of royal weddings and was the location of the requiem Mass for former President Francois Mitterrand.

Besides these real-life events, the cathedral was the setting for Victor Hugo’s 1831 novel “The Hunchback of Notre Dame,” whose title character, Quasimodo, was played by Charles Laughton in the 1939 film and voiced by Tom Hulce in a 1996 animated Disney movie.

If Notre Dame can rebuild, what is the largest challenge ahead?

Money. “It is really challenging in this day and age to raise money to implement repairs for cathedrals like this,” said Jim Shepherd, director of preservation and facilities at Washington National Cathedral. “At Notre Dame, they struggle with raising money even for the resources they had to do their renovation.” The French cathedral sought donations from beyond its country’s borders — including from wealthy Americans — for the work that was in progress.

The interior of Notre Dame Cathedral in France in 2018. Photo by Pedro Szekely/Creative Commons

Shepherd said his U.S. cathedral has likewise struggled to pay for its repairs since the 2011 earthquake caused $34 million in damage (it still needed $19 million as of March) and is only halfway finished with its work.

He said Notre Dame will also need the right on-the-ground experts in the immediate aftermath of the fire.

“You’re talking about things that might be … 800 years old that they’re trying to pull out that might have been partially burned, partially damaged by water,” he said.

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Source: Religion News Service