'Notre Dame - What cost? Why?'

The Revd. Writes…

Within days of the great fire of Notre Dame $1 billion had been donated for its rebuilding. That such a staggering sum of money should have been raised in such a short space of time has raised many an eyebrow. Such an amount is more than the gross domestic product of several countries put together and, it is fair to say, would transform the lives of many schools and hospitals. So, what is it about the potential loss of a landmark building that triggers the generosity of so many in raising so much money because they desperately want to save it?

The psychological pain, felt by so many - not just the French – at the loss of a great Medieval cathedral, highlights the attachment and emotional investment in the built environment. Human beings derive meaning and a sense of purpose in a number of ways – and buildings, particularly buildings set aside for religious ritual, are one of them. Cathedrals and churches house not just altars and other such artefacts, they house too scared memories of rites of passage from birth through to adulthood and death. Generations of history and identity are given space both within and without, held for present and future generations, in stone and mortar. Those who pass by project their fears and anxieties, hopes and aspirations, in such a way that the wayside chapel takes on a priestlike task – enabling a quiet place to think and to re-evaluate, to encounter the self in a safe environment.

A common response of many, who watched while the fire took its toll, was that it was as if the very soul of France was being put at risk. The very brave firefighters who rose to the challenge, saved not just the remains of a building, they saved too the possibility of a nation being able to rebuild itself from the ashes. Such hope is priceless. Closer to home some drew a parallel with the Great Fire of London and the loss of the old St. Paul’s. Christopher Wren, in building the new St. Paul’s Cathedral, rescued an important piece of stone from that loss, a stone that had carved upon it the word ‘resurgam’, meaning ‘I will rise again’. It was a piece of stone that helped a nation survive through the long nights of the ‘blitz’ 340 years later.

Latest forecasts suggest that the cost of rebuilding Notre Dame is more likely to cost at least $3 billion dollars. Less than half the amount needed for the restoration of Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament. And there are very few who can imagine a London or an England without them!

God Bless

Mark