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Notre Dame: A Monument for Cultural Humanity

Above: art by first graders in 2018 inspired by the rose windows of Notre Dame Cathedral.

Monuments are curious things. We build them to remember, to commemorate, to honor, celebrate and mourn. It’s easy to see these odes to history as scenery; the backdrop to our busy lives. The obelisk, the building, the sculpture — they live alongside us as silent companions and reminders of the generations upon whose shoulders we stand.

But as they play their part— unspeaking, unmoving, unchanging — we become indifferent to them. It’s not a malicious or intentional progression, but the day-to-day creeps in and overtakes our attentions, our affections.

Yesterday, our attentions were suddenly and dramatically turned back to one of the most important monuments we have. As humans, it’s a shared sense of connection and value which we gain from collectively appreciating the Cathedral of Notre Dame.

You don’t have to have a personal connection or even knowledge of this landmark to feel the united human grief because this ancient marvel represents a significant swath of the human story.

We all watched in disbelief as something so grand — something which has existed, seemingly  since the beginning of time, was desecrated in just hours. It’s difficult to comprehend a span of 856 years. How many world-changing events have been presided over by this magnificent palace of achievement and adoration? The history of a thousand years has been documented in the stones and buttresses of Notre Dame.

And now, a new chapter. An uncertain future. This monument we love, this testament to our capacities, artistry and vision, is marred and scarred. The beauty of our past and the hopes for a peaceful future are altered. But if we know anything about the passage of time, these scars will make the story of Notre Dame even more beautiful.

The Quai St. Michel and Notre Dame, 1901, Maximilian Luce

The fire at Notre Dame teaches us something important: our monuments are not lifeless hulks. They are living, breathing citizens of this world. We know this because when we lose them we are devastated and crestfallen. We feel deep sadness at the unexpected reality that things will never again be as they once were.

There is already chatter around the globe that the cathedral will be rebuilt and restored. Let’s hold our greatest hopes for this to be true! But in the meantime, let’s be sure to pause and celebrate the monument that was — and the myriad other monuments paying tribute to the rich history of humanity.

When we open our eyes to the world around us, the art, the architecture, the sculpture — we live a little more fully.

One Reply to “Notre Dame: A Monument for Cultural Humanity”

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