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Rebuilding Notre Dame Requires Rebuilding The Culture That Created It


As far as tourist sites and monuments go, the Notre Dame Cathedral is one of the best places to visit. It is beautiful, big, right at the center of a tourist-friendly city, and—best of all—completely free of charge.

It is a welcome change from Paris’s other famous monument, the Eiffel Tower, which costs a fair amount of money to climb and is located away from the center of town, forcing tourists to make a treacherous walk through parks and streets infested with aggressive peddlers accosting vulnerable tourists with their petitions and tacky souvenirs. By contrast, Notre Dame is safely situated near all the other great attractions of the city: the Louvre, the Luxembourg Gardens, the Musee D’Orsay, the Champs-Elysees, and the River Seine. It is the great centerpiece of the historical theme park that old Paris has become.

This is what French leaders and the majority of people around the world are lamenting. In the fire that struck the great cathedral, they saw the destruction of the ideal tourist site.

Thus, instead of responding with outrage to find the person who set fire to an enormous stone structure that has weathered nine centuries of so many wars and revolutions, officials quickly chalked it up to an accident related to renovation efforts and have already discussed plans for rebuilding. This is just an unfortunate thing that has no meaning or motive behind it—something to be sad, but not angry, about.

A Naive, Superficial Response

Except that these things do have meaning. Only those who see Notre Dame as merely an exquisite monument could respond to it in such a superficial, willfully naïve way. Consider the context of the fire. It happened at the beginning of Holy Week amidst a nationwide crisis of church desecration, to Notre Dame Cathedral, the most famous cathedral in the world and most visited site in Europe. It seems proper to seek a better explanation. It may very well be an accident—and if so, that’s quite an accident—or it may be something more sinister.

Because leadership and the media in France have already adopted an appeasement policy that refuses to acknowledges possible crimes among certain minority groups or possible government incompetence or corruption, it highly unlikely that anyone will learn the truth behind the fires. Already, they have quickly ruled out the possibility that this was not an accident, yet without much evidence. Nevertheless, the symbolism of the burning cathedral and the lame response is unmistakable for those loyal to France or to the Catholic Church: the West has officially entered a post-Christian phase in history.

Whatever can be said about the material progress of the modern secular era, it can also be said that it does not build cathedrals like Notre Dame. Only a truly devout, dynamic, and inspired medieval city like Paris in the 1100s, housing legendary figures like St. Thomas Becket, St. Bernard, and Peter Abelard, could build something so grand and impractical.

For those wondering what great building Paris produces today, they should visit the Pompidou Centre, an inside-out architectural monstrosity that houses modern art monstrosities. For all its many flaws, it is fair to say that there is something familiar about Pompidou that modern man does not feel in Notre Dame, a special kind of vacuity and disorder peculiar to contemporary life.

The images of Notre Dame on fire reminded people of unpleasant truth that the building is simply too beautiful and magnificent for the world today. The world, and France in particular, does not deserve it; Christianity, Catholicism in particular, does not deserve it either.

In the name of progress and mass appeal, France and the Catholic Church have both abandoned their venerable traditions and betrayed the very core of their identities. Nevertheless, they will continue to prop up their old monuments and pretend as if nothing has happened. Whether it turns out to be true or not, it seems fitting that the combustible scaffolding used for renovations was ignited by a careless construction worker paid by the French government. By trying to maintain the beautiful (profitable) illusion, they ended up inadvertently revealing the ugly reality.

Many writers have delivered moving tributes to Notre Dame, and those should not be disparaged. They prove just how powerful and important this church is to the world. But in praising the building, they should praise the forgotten values that created this building, for this will be the only way to truly rebuild it.

Learning to Care for Beauty Again

Catholics need to recover the beauty of Notre Dame, a beauty derived from genuine faith and strong community. They need to quit ruining their sacred spaces with modern art and architecture—an incompatible style that emphasizes function over form and by extension worldly concerns over heavenly ones.

There is nothing Catholic about lifeless, brutal buildings designed to house dehumanized collectives. True Catholic architecture should do the opposite, physically striving for the infinite and expanding the souls of those who worship a living God.

For their part, the French need to recover their history and national pride. They must realize that they are more than their welfare state and their many monuments. They have inherited the greatest cultural patrimony in the world, and they should rise to this occasion as rightful heirs. They should reject the vulgarity and falsehoods of their postmodern philosophers and ditch the inferior trash of popular culture.

This does not mean adopting an ethnocentric xenophobia, but a cultural confidence that lifts outsiders up to their level instead of stooping down to theirs. It is apparent that the French suffer from an acute cultural insecurity that causes them to elect spineless globalists like Emmanuel Macron, seek safety in a crumbling European Union, and enable the existence of unassimilated, crime-infested ghettos.

In other words, society needs to follow the example of Fr. Fournier, a true Catholic and true Frenchman, who risked his life to save the relics of Notre Dame. Just as he saved the heart of church, and just as the firemen to whom he ministers saved the heart of Paris, so too should all people of goodwill save the heart of Christianity and Western culture. And nothing less than Fournier’s kind of heroism will be required.

It is not enough to reflect on the fire and consider the loss in money and morale it may bring. Rather, this is the moment to reflect on what it symbolizes—a post-Christian West and the great neglect of truth, goodness, and beauty. This is not a mere matter of rebuilding a cathedral; it is a matter of rebuilding a world.