Fire and Faith

by Mark Steyn
Steyn on Europe
April 16, 2019

Twenty-four hours after Notre Dame de Paris began to burn, there is better news than we might have expected: More of the cathedral than appeared likely to has, in fact, survived intact – including the famous rose windows, among the most beautiful human creations I’ve ever seen. The “new” Notre Dame will be mostly high up and out of sight, which is just as well given that modern man prides himself on having no smidgeonette of empathy with his flawed forebears and thus the chances of historic recreation of the animating spirit of 1160 are near zero.

There is an architectural debate to be had, I suppose, about whether a reconstructed twelfth-century cathedral requires nineteeth-century appurtenances such as its spire. But the minute that starts you risk some insecure dweeb like Macron, on whose watch the thing went up in smoke, getting fanciful ideas about bequeathing to posterity some I M Pei pyramid on the top of the roof. France’s revolution, unlike America’s, was aggressively secular, and it ultimately found expression in the 1905 law on the separation of churches and the state. Since then the French state has owned the cathedral, and thus it will be Macron who ultimately decides what arises in its place.

Beyond that are the larger questions: When the iconic house of worship at the heart of French Christianity decides to mark Holy Week by going up in flames, it’s too obviously symbolic of something …but of what exactly? Two thousand churches have been vandalized in the last two years: Valérie Boyer, who represents Bouches-du-Rhône in the National Assembly, said earlier this month that “every day at least two churches are profaned” – by which she means arson, smashed statutes of Jesus and Mary, and protestors who leave human fecal matter in the shape of a cross. This is a fact of life in modern France.

As it is, there is no shortage of excitable young Mohammedans gleefully celebrating on social media. In 2017 some inept hammer-wielding nutter yelling “Allahu Akbar!” had a crack at Notre Dame, and a couple of years before that the historian Dominique Venner blew his brains out on the altar to protest same-sex marriage. I love France but, in recent years, it’s hard not to pick up on the sense that it’s coming apart – and that, when the center cannot hold, the things at that center, the obsolete embodiments of a once cohesive society, are a natural target.

In addition, the authorities’ eagerness to assure us that it was an accident at a time when such a conclusion could not possibly be known – and when their own response to the emergency was, to put it politely, somewhat dilatory – was itself enough to invite suspicion: “Sure, it might be an accident. But, even if it weren’t, they’d still tell us it was…”

So, precisely because Paris is full of people who would love to burn down Notre Dame four days before Good Friday, it seems bizarrely improbable that it should happen by accident: that a highly desirable target should be taken out by some slapdash workman leaving a cigarette butt near his combustible foam take-out box – the lunchpack of Notre Dame – and letting the dried-out twelfth-century timbers do the rest.

Yet that surely is as perfectly symbolic as anything of a desiccated Christendom and its careless stewardship of its glorious inheritance. On Tucker’s show last night I wondered aloud about the Parisians weeping in the street: What were they mourning? The loss of great architecture? Beautiful artwork? Magnificent music in an acoustically perfect space? Or were they mourning something greater, the loss of some part of themselves? When I interviewed Douglas Murrayabout his profound book The Strange Death of Europe, one subject that prompted a lot of comment was Douglas’ plea, as a non-believer himself, that the citizenry try to reconnect with their lost faith if not in a religious sense than at least in a respectful socio-cultural way: These ancient buildings are part of what we came from, and who we are to this day, etc. Any Anglican knows that for much of the twentieth century the Church of England functioned well enough as a religion for the not terribly religious – chaps with little time for all this God-bothering but who enjoyed the liturgy and the hymns and the comforting feeling that God was in some sense an Englishman…

Douglas’ argument is, as it were, a good-faith argument, sincerely made. But, reading his own reaction to the burning of Notre-Dame, it felt a little tinny and hollow, as if he knows it’s not going to be enough to try and fake it. He’s not alone in that: I mentioned Michel Houellebecq’s protagonist in his novel Soumission who, even as he understands the need to do so, cannot will himself to re-connect with his lost faith. A lot of the people who are sad about Notre Dame fall into the same category – like Brits who get upset when it’s reported that this or that BBC radio programme is ending after fifty years even though they haven’t themselves listened to it since a wet Sunday afternoon in 1987. The point about a prodigal son is that he assumes he can always come home. But sometimes, when everybody’s prodigal, there’s no home to come back to.

Three years ago, on a bleak, miserable, rain-swept day in Rouen, I attended the funeral of a priest beheaded by self-proclaimed soldiers of the Islamic State – the usual “known wolves”; one indeed was wearing a security anklet at the time he committed the act, but the authorities sportingly switched it off for a couple of hours every morning just to let him kick loose for a while; the other had been working at Charles de Gaulle Airport until a couple of months before he went all Allahu Akbar. On the morning of Père Hamel’s obsequies, it was not a heavy downpour, just a chill persistent drizzle that got into your bones and gave the place de la cathedrale that umbrellas-in-the-rain look of Madrid after the train bombings. It was slow progress getting into the cathedral as the controle de sac had to be done by hand and so did the body patdowns, arm by arm, leg by leg – the building not having metal detectors, although it surely will one day.

At the front of the cathedral was an oil painting of Father Hamel with a halo – a touch idolatrous surely, or at least premature. But it had been done by a local musulman three days after the priest’s decapitation, and was warmly received. It was an elderly congregation – late middle-age and up, Frenchmen and women still sufficiently residually Catholic to qualify as lapsed Catholics. The younger worshipers were black women. The young men invariably turned out to have the telltale telephone cord snaking down from the ear that marked them out as part of the heavy security presence. The bigshots were the last to enter, ushered to the reserved seats as the pressmen closed in, cameras clicking to get their shots of the hapless Interior Minister for tomorrow’s front pages.

There was also the occasional trimly bearded Muslim man dispatched in the interests of interfaith dialogue, although their number did not include the two mocking youths who laughed at us as we lined up in the rain outside. I sat next to one of the very few covered women, there without male accompaniment. We smiled at each other as everyone else got up to receive Communion and we were the only ones left, she for the visibly obvious reason, I as the only Anglican Church of Canada guy in the cathedral that day. Back in Paris that evening, I mentioned me and my Muslima friend’s splendid isolation to my dinner companion, and she roared with laughter. “You should both have gone up,” she said. “You don’t think all those government ministers are observant Catholics, do you?”

No, not at all. They were mostly sly, cynical types who understand that, in a world where everything has changed, sometimes it helps to have a little bit of stagecraft that reassures the citizenry that nothing very much has changed at all. It will be thus for whatever photo-op Macron arranges for Notre Dame.

That summer of 2016, in Rouen Cathedral, in the Basilica of St Denis and in Notre Dame itself, I heard only the “melanacholy, long, withdrawing roar” of Matthew Arnold’s sea of faith. The cornerstone for the cathedral was laid in April 1163 in the presence of King Louis VII and Pope Alexander III. The builders who raised up those stones through great vaulted spaces soaring to heaven were primitive, ill-educated men who nevertheless had a sense of something beyond themselves and the present tense. Once lost, that’s hard to re-inculcate. Douglas Murray’s Spectator colleague Jonathan Miller writes: “Perhaps this will be the wake-up call that France needed.” Perhaps. But there have been so many others, haven’t there? As I wrote in America Alonethirteen years ago:

It’s hard to come up with a wake-up call for a society as dedicated as latterday Europe to the belief that life is about sleeping in.

And so it’s less the flames of hell than the flames of ennui.

And yet the next time in Paris I shall visit again those magnificent rose windows and feel something akin to the connection Keats did to the figures on that Greek urn. Civilization is always a paradox: deep roots and yet a thin veneer. To raze Notre Dame to the ground would have been a grand victory for barbarism. If not a “wake-up call”, the sight that arises this Tuesday on the Île de la Cité is a kind of pre-Easter resurrection, or at least a reprieve.

COFFEE HOUSE Notre Dame’s loss is too much to bear


Douglas Murray

Douglas Murray

15 April 2019

Civilisation only ever hangs by a thread. Today one of those threads seems to have frayed, perhaps snapped. It is impossible to watch the footage coming out of Paris, all that can be done is to groan and turn away. It is not possible to watch the spire of Notre Dame collapse. It is not possible to watch the great cathedral consumed by fire.

Evelyn Waugh once said that in the event of a fire in his house, if he was able only to save his children or his library, he would save his library because books were irreplaceable. Only at a moment such as this is it possible to concede the slightest truth in that remark. Almost anything could be borne rather than the loss of this building.

There will be recriminations, of course. There will be disputes about budgets, and overtime and safety standards and much more. It is worth reading this piece from two years ago about the funding problems that existed around the cathedral’s restoration. But if Notre Dame can burn then all this is as nothing, because it tells us something too deep to bear. As I said a couple of years ago in a book, in some ways the future of civilisation in Europe will be decided by our attitude towards the great churches and other cultural buildings of our heritage standing in our midst. Do we contend with them, ignore them, engage with them or continue to revere them? Do we preserve them?

Though politicians may imagine that ages are judged on the minutiae of government policy, they are not. They are judged on what they leave behind: most of all on how they treat what the past has handed into their care. Even if today’s disaster was simply the most freakish of accidents, ours would still be the era that lost Notre Dame.

We would have to tell future generations what it was like, this treasure that we lost. At the start of this decade I was living part of each week in Paris, commuting back and forth to a little flat on the edge of Le Marais. Each time I headed out to the earliest Eurostar on a Monday morning I would see the great cathedral first as I turned into the street. One winter morning heavy snow was falling and as I headed to the station I stopped dead, alone in the street with the cathedral and just drinking in the sight of a building I had seen a hundred times before. When I got into London a friend could see I was just beaming still, radiating far too much joy for such a time of the week. He asked how I was and I remember simply saying, ‘This morning I saw Notre Dame in the snow’. It was like that.

The Heartbreak of Notre Dame

by Mark Steyn
Tucker Carlson Tonight
April 16, 2019

Just before 7pm Paris time on Monday, fire broke out at Notre Dame cathedral – and, within a couple of hours, the spire, the roof and the three sublime rose windows were gone. Whatever the cause of the conflagration, its symbolism at the start of Holy Week is sobering. Tucker and I discussed the loss of one of the glories of Christendom live on air. Click below to watch:

John Robson: What the Notre Dame coverage kept missing

Arwen~ A must read

It’s not just a beautiful historic building. It’s a House of God that speaks to our aspiration to be better than we are

John Robson

John Robson

April 16, 2019

The world was transfixed Monday as an iconic Parisian tourist attraction burned horribly. There was also a church on fire.

I mention the latter because news stories banged on about Notre Dame as a historic landmark before throwing in the place of worship thing as a kind of curious footnote. And I found myself wondering why they thought people went there.

To some extent, in quintessentially modern fashion, it’s famous for being famous so people went and looked because people went and looked. Also it’s beautiful and historic. But those truisms are uselessly vague. Why is it beautiful and historic and how do they connect? Through the church?

Notre Dame Cathedral is seen in Paris on April 16, 2019, the day after it was severely damaged in a devastating fire. Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

Bauhaus theorists gave us the slogan “form follows function.” And went on to create buildings so hideous in form as to suggest a problem with the materialistic, hedonistic functions they serve. Ads for river cruises offer you nature and old buildings. Yet modernity stuffs us into shiny glass and steel box towers surrounded by cement and is too proud to wonder why we’re unhappy.

So could it be that Gothic cathedrals are beautiful because they are cathedrals not due to a bunch of technical tricks? I don’t deny the genius of flying buttresses, pointed arches and other innovations that enabled stone to soar. But the distinctive architecture of Gothic cathedrals is trying to say something.

Judaism told us man was made in the image of God, and Christianity that God made himself in the image of man, reaching down to us so we could reach up to him. Which is what the great cathedrals do, from Chartres to Salisbury, the latter built with ropes and chisels in just 38 years under Elias of Dereham, who also brought the Magna Carta still displayed there with its opening guarantee of religious freedom. See how it all connects?

The distinctive architecture of Gothic cathedrals is trying to say something

There is beauty in other religious architecture too, from the Great Pyramid to Angkor Wat. And in medieval castles, which fused natural materials and the natural landscape in such harmony that even their ruins often inspire awe, exactly unlike a half-wrecked mall or hotel. But great Christian architecture has a distinctive form because it has a distinctive theology, down to playfully grotesque gargoyles reminding those whose minds wander during services not to let them wander too far from God.

One may regard such notions with scorn. Or wistfully, as lovely but no longer credible. But something makes Notre Dame so evocatively beautiful that it must be rebuilt.

Or rather, revealingly, reconstructed. If a church burned down in the Middle Ages, or collapsed, the normal response was to aim still higher. Today we can only aspire to an exact replica … if they waive the fire code.

A photo taken on April 16, 2019, shows the interior of Notre Dame in the aftermath of a fire that devastated the Paris cathedral. AFP/Getty Images

If no cathedral had ever stood there, it would not occur to anyone to build one now. As postmodern novelist John Barth once said, “If somebody built the Chartres cathedral now, it would be an embarrassing piece of real estate, wouldn’t it? Unless he did it ironically.” In which case no one would go.

Barth also said Beethoven’s Sixth Symphony would be embarrassing today. But Mozart will outlast Lady Gaga. And even most modern churches are lugubrious or hip eyesores people would no more visit in 2819 than they’d rebuild the CN Tower, Place du Portage or the latest pretentious condo development if they finally burned down instead of collapsing centuries earlier.

In praising Notre Dame, people tap-danced around this central point. The New York Times’ David Leonhardt said it “connects humankind across the centuries” and recalled visiting with his dad at 11, “looking up and thinking it was the oldest thing I had ever seen.” A Maclean’s piece made it even more explicitly all about us, from “the first time you saw the carved twin spires from the taxi window” to “The moment you cried when you reached the last page of Victor Hugo’s novel” or “curled up on the couch with your parents, the VCR on, watching the animated gargoyles come to life. It is trite to say Notre Dame belongs to all of us. Nonetheless, it is true … a landmark in our own lives.”

If we stare in awe we should ponder why

Actually it belongs to the Church … via the state, France being France. And if we stare in awe we should ponder why and how it connects humankind. Why was it maintained for eight centuries? Why did it inspire Hugo and loom over Paris even when desecrated into a farcical “Temple of Reason” during the French Revolution? Why does secular France’s agnostic president pledge to rebuild it?

For the tourist revenue? To avoid being thought vulgar? No. Because it speaks to our aspiration to be better than we are and our belief that it is possible.

So Notre Dame must be rebuilt and will be. And, with any luck, people will then go to see a glorious House of God.

Notre Dame’s golden altar cross seen glowing as images emerge from inside showing fire-ravaged cathedral

By Lucia I. Suarez Sang

Notre Dame’s golden altar cross seen glowing among the ashes as images emerge from inside show fire-ravaged cathedral

Notre Dame’s golden altar cross seen glowing among the ashes as images emerge from inside show fire-ravaged cathedral

Here are the first images inside Notre Dame Cathedral after a fire destroyed its roof and iconic spire.

LILLEY: Trudeau flirts with terrorist supporters, angers India, again

Arwen~ Excerpt from article:

“Trudeau has made the calculation that he would rather cozy up to that minority in the Sikh community that would use violence to achieve political goals than actually stand for Canadian values.

In the meantime, he is driving a wedge between us and a major market for Canadian goods.

Votes matter more to Trudeau than principle, values or jobs.”

Brian Lilley

Published:April 15, 2019

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau addresses the crowd at the Khalsa Diwan Society Sikh Temple before marching in the Vaisakhi parade, in Vancouver on Saturday April 13, 2019. (The Canadian Press)

Martel on Notre Dame

Our Lady of Paris burned last night, the heart of Paris, the heart of France, whose walls and bells and ghosts have seen history and times beyond reckoning.

Our Lady survived the Revolution, she survived the rise and fall of Napoleon, she survived neglect, she survived the Prussians, the privations of two World Wars and she will survive. She is France. She is eternal.

It is not always easy to define civilization but we only have to look at Notre Dame, and the yearning for the sublime contained within her towers, her walls, her windows, and there we can see high civilization wrought before our  eyes.

Arwen~ Beautifully stated, Martel.