The burning of Notre-Dame was a tragic experience for people who watched from around the world. The reaction on social media both sympathized, and as expected, used the platform to speak out against Christianity, which historically, and some would argue currently, has devastated cultures worldwide, including colonial campaigns that burned libraries and artwork.
With religion and colonialism (and any other negative attribute associated with Christianity as a religion and its role in colonialism) aside, from the perspective of art, the structural damage to the cathedral was devastating to watch because for many of us the cathedral symbolizes more than a religious institution.
Such architecture as the Notre-Dame is humankind’s ability at its best expression. The ability to design and construct such a work of art symbolizes an individual attaining their highest potential, transcendence. I leave you to interpret transcendence through a sacred or secular lens. The Notre-Dame, like all medieval cathedrals, where designed, in part, to inspire the congregation with the feeling of being in a divine space where they would experience the greatness of the kingdom of heaven, which spiritually is an individual’s highest potential. But one not be a churchgoer to enter such a space or even stand outside it to be inspired by the beauty of the art and design.
When the Taliban destroyed the Buddhas of Bamyan, we all were injured. We lost a part of history that for some was part of their personal heritage and for others indirectly part of our collective world heritage. These great works of art reveal the beauty and pleasure humanity can experience in this world. These great artworks also present the best humanity has to offer. They are the culmination of a culture’s philosophy, technology, and values.
Art reflects nature and the human experience. Sadly, the reality is the fires of an enflamed cathedral is the reflection of our world today. Our society is burning. Our world is burning. This system is collapsing. I personally don’t take the burning of a cathedral as retribution for the wages of sin committed by the Catholic Church, but an omen to humanity.
As millions of dollars pour into funds to return the cathedral to its former glory, humanity’s cathedral, humanity’s greatest sacred space, which is this planet, is still in flames. The earth is heating up rapidly. Yet, there seems to be no sense of urgency. What earthly spire will have to fall for the world to faint?
Notre-Dame did not fall. Art still remains within. The smoke cleared. The world mourned together, and will rejoice when the cathedral will be rebuilt. But let us learn from this experience how vital it is to put out the fires in both nature and society. If we lose this world, the world will lose its audience.