You are here
Heartbreak, grief across the world
THE fire that tore through the Cathedral of Notre-Dame in Paris on Monday, causing the collapse of its central spire and much of its roof, generated an outpouring of grief in France and around the world as the symbol of French culture and history burned.
The fire, declared fully extinguished some 15 hours after it began, ravaged the 850-year-old building's roof and caused its spire to collapse. The cause of the fire is not yet clear.
President Emmanuel Macron cancelled a major speech on the "Yellow Vest" protests that have roiled the country. "Like all of our fellow citizens, I am sad tonight to see this part of us burn," he said on Twitter.
Thoughts are now turning to how Notre-Dame will be rebuilt. The BBC reported that Mr Macron vowed to reconstruct the historic building. Hundreds of millions of euros have been pledged to help rebuild Notre- Dame. It was also reported that artworks will be sent to the Louvre.
Thousands of French citizens lined the banks of the Seine, many in tears or unable to speak, watching the flames gut the cathedral, which had survived two world wars intact. In one video that was widely circulated online, a crowd near the cathedral sang a hymn together as the flames rose into the fading evening light. Many more watched on livestreams on social media, or on television news.
However they took in the spectacle, the emotions were the same: They were heartbroken.
Sylvie Lacour, who lived near the cathedral for eight years, watched it burn on television from Bordeaux. "The heart of Paris and my country is being gutted by the flames," she said. "I am devastated." Beyond being one of her favourite spots in Paris, the symbol of the city held a special place in her heart, she said. Ms Lacour's mother had wanted to be baptised, but died in 1991 before she could be. So Ms Lacour went to Notre-Dame and asked for a Mass to be said in her name.
"I am what you call a lapsed Catholic, but I always found Notre-Dame to be a deeply spiritual place, even though it was also a tourist spot," she said. "It felt vibrant and serene at the same time."
Around the world, from heads of state and Instagram influencers to Roman Catholic leaders and tourists who had visited the cathedral only days before, people took to social media to express their grief.
Leaders around the world offered words of commiseration and support in response, with Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong sharing a Facebook post on how he was "deeply saddened" to see the flames blaze their way through Notre-Dame.
"I share the sense of loss of the French people over the damage to their national monument and the treasures it contained," he said. "The Notre-Dame has stood witness to events in Paris and Europe for more than 850 years. It is part of the heritage of mankind, an expression of the religious faith and human spirit of generations of people who conceived it, built it, and worshipped in it.
"I hope in time, a rebuilt Notre-Dame will fill the Paris skyline," he added.
At an event in Minnesota, President Donald Trump called it a "terrible, terrible fire" at "one of the great treasures in the world." He said the cathedral was "a part of our culture", and on Twitter urged French authorities to act quickly.
Former President Barack Obama shared a photo on Twitter of his family visiting the cathedral, writing, "It's in our nature to mourn when we see history lost - but it's also in our nature to rebuild for tomorrow, as strong as we can."
And former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton wrote on Twitter: "My heart goes out to Paris. Notre-Dame is a symbol of our ability as human beings to unite for a higher purpose - to build breathtaking spaces for worship that no one person could have built on their own."
Archbishop Daniel Cardinal DiNardo, president of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, said in a statement that the fire was "shocking and saddens us all".
"We are a people of hope and of the resurrection," he said, "and as devastating as this fire is, I know that the faith and love embodied by this magnificent cathedral will grow stronger in the hearts of all Christians."
Survived French Revolution and two world wars
In remarks broadcast on a Russian news network, Archpriest Nikolai V Balashov, vice chairman of the department of external relations for the Russian Orthodox Church, called the fire "a huge tragedy for the whole Christian world", and said that Russians value "these wonders of the old God's world, these remnants of holy wonders."
Celebrities of all generations added their voices to the grieving. The singer Cher wrote on Twitter that she was "praying for Notre Dame", and reality TV star Stassi Schroeder wrote on Instagram, "My heart is fully breaking knowing that this monumental cathedral is being torn apart."
A sense of loss pervaded the reactions, especially for the works of art and historical artifacts inside the cathedral. Built over two centuries and completed in 1345, it contained relics, priceless stained-glass rose windows and other prizes of France's long Catholic history. It survived the French Revolution and two world wars. And now a fire, burning in the course of a spring afternoon, had left the cathedral's admirers around the world stunned.
Lindsey Ellis, who visited the cathedral in 2017 to make a YouTube video about the film and Victor Hugo's novel The Hunchback of Notre-Dame, wrote on Twitter: "You can't replace an 800-year-old rose window. You can't replace original technological innovations." In an interview, Ms Ellis said the fire had hit her particularly hard because of her research on Hugo, whose novel - published in 1831, when the cathedral was in disrepair - helped inspire significant renovations to the building, including to its spire and flying buttresses, and ushered in a new era of historical preservation. "In Hugo's eyes it was the summation of human ingenuity," Ms Ellis said. "Hugo's idea was the building will outlast the time it exists in, and that's just not true anymore."
For several years, Carolyn O'Neal, 74, of Lake Forest, Illinois, travelled to Notre Dame with her mother and two sisters to pay tribute to her father, who died in 1984. Inside, O'Neal's mother would light a candle for him, and they would all sit in a pew facing one of the rose windows and remember him. When O'Neal's mother died in 2002, O'Neal and her sisters continued the tradition, now for both their parents.
"When I heard of today's shocking and terrible news, those memories of our special time when we honoured our parents loomed softly in my mind," she said. "Now I'm devastated that this meaningful family tradition may not continue." NYTIMES