The Fire of Notre Dame Cathedral: How Tragic?

Commentary No. 496, May 1, 2019

On April 15, 2019, a fire at the Cathedral of Notre Dame was a tragedy for people all across the world, and particularly those in France. Everyone who ever saw it usually loved it. So this was a tragedy for perhaps half the world, if not many more. The question remains: was it undoable? The answer is absolutely not.

There is absolutely no reason Notre Dame cannot be restored exactly as it was, or as we wish to improve it. It is only a question of political will and money.

We have the technical capacity to do it, the will, and we will have the money.

We have the technical capacity because we know where every rock was located before this tragedy. The Cathedral was first built in the twelfth century. It has been constructed and reconstructed numerous times since then. There is no truly original cathedral. The one burnt down is a reconstruction of many previous ones.

France was politically divided before this. The personal hope of President Macron was that this project of reconstruction would reunify the population. It did momentarily. The moment is over and France is as divided as ever.

The fire was a tragedy, but far from the worst that could have been. The authorities think the fire was an accident and they think they have saved the essential parts of the structure. I hope this is so. It doesn’t really matter. They can reconstruct if they want.

It would be a real tragedy if it were not recuperable. Imagine the following: the great art museums, such as the Louvre, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, or any other museums, are subject to fires which cannot be undone.

A fire at any other institution is a permanent loss of whatever was inside. This is what presumably happened in the great library of Alexandria. All of what was humanity prior, which was stored in the museum in Alexandria, is lost forever. If a fire started in a comparable location today – whether accidental or deliberate – it would not be recuperable. So let us get things into perspective.

The cathedral fire deeply saddened us all, but we have not lost very much because of it. We shall have Notre Dame again. Were the Louvre to have a similar catastrophe, we would never be able to replace its contents again.

This may not assuage our present emotions, but emotions are passing phenomena. If Notre Dame is rebuilt, we may not even remember what our emotions had been.