People around the world, even those who have not been fortunate enough to visit Paris, have been moved by the images of the devastating fire at the Notre Dame Cathedral this week.
I have never been there, but I experienced a sense of loss as I watched the flames bursting from the iconic structure.
As I watched the crowds of somber Parisians singing as they watched one of their most popular landmarks burn, I felt that this was a tragedy not just for them, but for all of us.
Notre Dame is part of our shared cultural experience.
When we think of Paris, the cathedral is among the things that come to mind.
We forget sometimes that the US is a rather new country. Notre Dame was quite venerable before the first Europeans set foot on this continent.
As I watched the news footage, I couldn’t help but think of all the history that has taken place in and around this grand old lady in the more than 850 years since construction began.
There is a distinction because, like other significant structures of its time, construction was measured in decades or centuries, rather than years.
Generations of craftsmen worked on the structure, and many who contributed didn’t live to see the finished cathedral.
Heads of state have been crowned there. It has survived the French Revolution, two world wars, and many other historical events.
It has been featured in literature and films, exposing its grandeur to new audiences.
People are drawn to Notre Dame, not only because it is one of the finest examples of French Gothic Architecture, but because it is a part of world history.
More than 13 million visitors flock to Notre Dame each year. During the summer, an estimated 50,000 people pass through the cathedral each day.
Those numbers suggest that Notre Dame is much more than an old church.
Like other iconic structures, it represents more than a building, or even a place of worship. It is a part of the history of our civilization.
Prior to the fire, the cathedral had been in need of repairs in some areas.
Now, the scope of renovations will be much greater.
French President Emmanuel Macron’s pledge Tuesday to restore the fire-devastated Notre Dame within five years is unrealistic, according to some experts.
It will be necessary to recruit and train craftsmen to do the work.
The structure will not be rebuilt exactly as it was, partly because the wood that was used originally came from forests that don’t exist as they did at the time.
It will also be necessary to stabilize the structure before renovations can begin.
Some experts have said it could take decades to restore Notre Dame.
It seems, however, that there is a will to take on this vast project, and donations have already been committed.
I didn’t visit Notre Dame before the fire, and it seems unlikely I will have a chance to see it once it is restored, but I’m glad the work will be done.
There are structures around the world that transcend utility and stand as monuments to what we can accomplish.
Preserving these structures is in our shared best interest. They symbolize the ingenuity of mankind, and the enduring nature of what we can do when we seek to build things rather than destroy them.