Out of the Ashes

Shock waves reverberated virtually everywhere one looked yesterday, as news spread about the fire at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. It is stunning and surreal to see an iconic building that has stood for more than eight centuries being ravaged before our eyes.

It’s a house of Christian worship, of course, and this tragedy struck during one of the holiest times on the Christian calendar. The Cathedral also transcends religion, though, and is meaningful for its historical, architectural and artistic significance to people of all faith orientations.

It’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site, based on its longevity, resilience, context and beauty. Construction on the building began in 1160 and continued for more than a century, and it stood through some tumultuous times, through the French Revolution in the 18th century and World War II in the 20th century. It’s also a busy and popular tourist destination today, in the 21st century — remaining every bit as relevant and remarkable.

Notre Dame is an icon of Paris. For those of us lucky enough to have visited in person, it’s an unforgettable highlight of our time in an overwhelmingly beautiful city, and an aspirational “bucket list” destination for many who have yet to see it in person. It’s also MORE than a Parisian icon — its beauty, symbolism and historical significance speak to people worldwide. So many people FELT connected to it, and to its importance, whether or not they’d ever even been to Paris.

Musicians honor the legacy at the Cathedral, dating back to the so-called Notre Dame school of polyphony in the 12th and 13th centuries, when composers such as Leonin and Perotin worked there. Musicians today still covet the magnificent organ and the rich musical life that has continued there.

Even before the fire was contained, political and business leaders vowed to repair and rebuild, and pledged significant money to do it. The Friends of Notre Dame de Paris also received many small donations and inquiries on how best to help.

Parisians watched the horror unfold together. They wept, shared stories and memories, sang AVE MARIA, and prayed for containment of the blaze. People across the world did the same, as 21st century technology allowed us to witness in realtime what was happening to this 850 year old building. Out of the ashes of this tragedy comes a banding together of people worldwide to acknowledge the shock and sadness and support one another, as well as appreciate, celebrate and recommit to something we took for granted would always be there.

May we always strive to do this, even before tragedy strikes.