Having visited Notre Dame only a couple of weeks ago, the sight of it in flames is heartbreaking. It reminds me of the fire at York Minister all those years ago. That time it was a lightning strike (blamed at the time on God’s judgement on the consecration of the new Bishop of Durham, David Jenkins ‘who didn’t believe in the Bible’). The fire at Notre Dame, the early prognosis is, has something to do with the renovations taking place. Such events beg many questions. One might be whether such nationally important buildings should be left in ecclesiastical hands? Do they have rigorous enough standards of care and maintenance? But then, how many such buildings, still in use as religious centres ought to be maintained at the taxpayers’ expense in a nominally secular state? But there’s no escaping the fact that this fire is a tragedy, even if in maybe thirty or forty years’ time, it will have been restored. Thinking again of York Minster, there rarely seems to be a time when some part of it is not enveloped in scaffolding. What you see there today is not what was originally built – it has been practically rebuilt stone by stone over a long period. In that sense, being witness to a tragedy is merely to witness a sudden escalation of the inevitable. Notre Dame’s spire was built in the nineteenth century. Having said which, there will be many irreplaceable treasures inside that are lost forever.
Or maybe – it is just God’s judgement on something. He after all giveth, and He takes away. In the context of faith, this episode is just one test of many. But it’s a loss for humanists too.
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