The Holy Monday of 2019 has been marked as a disastrous anniversary. If the history crosses France by means of premonitory milestones, with the fire of Notre-Dame de Paris it has wanted to indicate a new class of global catastrophe, relayed live before the stupor and the affliction of millions of people.
The temple - a symbol of Christianity and Western culture, a World Heritage Site - has not been completely destroyed thanks to the effective intervention of the authorities. The consolation remains that, fortunately, there have been no victims.
It is difficult to exaggerate the significance of the fact because it is not only an irreplaceable loss for a monument of great historical and artistic value, but because we fully enter the domain of the symbolic, cruelly torn when the famous nineteenth-century needle of Viollet-le Duc , engulfed in flames, collapsed on the church's roof.
Notre Dame, in this aspect, reaches a relevance with very few pairs. It has been at the heart of French and European evolution since the 12th century. In it, the crown of thorns was placed, one of the most venerated relics of Christ, kept for centuries in Constantinople. During the Revolution it was desecrated and vandalized. According to Laure Junot, Duchess of Abrantes, the goddess Reason, embodied by a semi-naked opera dancer, received the tribute of the plebs in her main altar in 1793. In the nineteenth century, Victor Hugo rescued her by dignifying her in her famous novel and escaped unharmed from the Commune of 1871. In 1944, de Gaulle, attributing the representation of the Republic, rejected the investiture in the Hotel de Ville and presided as Head of State a Te Deum within its walls the day after the liberation of the city . Today, it is surely the most visited monument in Europe by tourists.
The Gothic cathedral has suffered multiple avatars and interventions in its physical body; its meaning has deep roots in the cultural heritage of France and the world whether by faith, the visual arts, literature, music, philosophy. That's why people last night prayed on their knees in the streets to implore their salvation or followed the news with anxiety. Any controversy about their values in relation to other monuments, in addition to sterile and inappropriate, is untimely. Architecture has the power to serve as a receptacle for the cultural experience of man.
The balance of the tragedy is becoming known. According to Le Figaro, the first estimates speak of up to ten percent of his works disappeared forever, as some of the great paintings offered by the guild of goldsmiths during the seventeenth century. The treasure has been saved with relics such as the aforementioned crown of thorns and the tunic of San Luis, as well as the large organ, although the state of its tin and lead pipes is a concern. The wonderful stained glass windows, on which the intensity of the heat may have caused havoc, still remain on the facades and the sixteen copper statues that adorned the needle casually, had been removed for restoration days before.
The integrity of the structure of the building raises concern. There was a time when it was feared for its mere survival, when the flames threatened the main façade, the great rosette and the two towers. The walls and part of the stone vaults, despite the heat and collapse of the wooden armor, have resisted, but a technical study will reveal its true state.
The complete physical crash has been avoided. Now we must avoid the symbolic. The lesson may be that today more than ever, in this time of anguished uncertainties, the fate of this unique emblem should induce us to reflect on the values of our civilization, our traditions and the necessary innovations, our identity and the challenges of the face to the future.
Francisco Bocanegra, architect and museographer