I've never been to Paris, although the City of Lights has been on my bucket list for as long as I've had one. I've thus never seen the Cathedral of Notre Dame in person, and yet today is an emotional one for me, and for millions of people across the globe. Notre Dame Cathedral has been engulfed in flames, fire consuming centuries of history. The symbol of this tragedy will be on front pages across the globe tomorrow morning, photos of the spire collapsing. It's a heartbreaking moment of sadness for Catholics and Christians of all denominations, for people who love architecture, for people who have a sense of history. But it's ultimately a sad day for all of us.
The story of humankind is told in our history. That story unfolds in our buildings. It unfolds in our art, and in our music. We do what we can to protect these valuable treasures, but in this case, something went horribly wrong. French fire authorities believe that renovation work at the 850-year-old cathedral may have had something to do with it. It was likely an accident, pure and simple, and one that happened just days ahead of what is arguably Christianity's most important day of the year.
Construction on the landmark building began in 1163, according to CBS News, and it was not completed until 1345. History happened at Notre Dame Cathedral, and it is the centerpiece of classic literature in Victor Hugo's The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Millions visit each year to be awestruck by its beauty, its history, its priceless works of art. Notre Dame Cathedral has been an important symbol of Christianity for centuries, and it's a symbol of our larger civilization. The Notre Dame Cathedral will almost certainly be rebuilt, its priceless stained glass windows replaced by brilliant copies.
And yet, we know this catastrophic fire has cost us something that feels important. Parisians will bear witness to the scar of this inferno for a long time to come, of course, but the rest of us are losing a piece of who we are. If it's a small piece in the grand scheme of things, or if we won't ever know all that's been taken by flame, it's still a devastating loss. And one that leaves us with heavy hearts.