Rebuilding Notre Dame Cathedral

Photo by Marcel Strauß

Recently I watched a documentary about the rebuilding of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. Hard to believe that almost four years have passed since the fire almost destroyed that treasured icon. I remembered how I cried as I watched with millions of others the burning of Notre Dame. How tragic to see that grandest of all cathedrals engulfed by fire and brought down to her knees.

I watched and listened as the people of Paris sang Ave Maria, their emotions in full view for all the world to see. Norte Dame of Paris is not only Parisian or French, she belongs to the world. How can she not when she welcomed over 13 million of us each year?

The mayor assured us that she would be rebuilt, that just like the Phoenix, she would rise from her ashes and live again. Even as she smouldered, plans got underway to find the builders, architects, historians and workers to make the restoration happen.

There were no records of the original plans that built Notre Dame, so it was up to the historians to try to figure out how it all came to be. One narrator described it as an archaeological dig where they had to work backwards in time to reveal and understand the old technology.

Slowly and carefully the debris was removed and an enormous scaffolding was erected inside the cathedral to help stabilize the walls and prevent it from collapsing. When the building was secured, two hundred workers began the arduous task of cleaning the 850-year-old building. Dirt and grime as well as smoke stains from countless candles had to be washed away.

One of the most dangerous tasks is removing all the lead which was used in the original construction. Workers have to wear protective clothing that is destroyed at the end of their shift. Special vacuums are used to suck up all the dust created by removing this deadly metal.

While work in Paris was going on, the hunt for two thousand perfectly straight and tall oak trees began. These would be used to rebuild the roof. Also needed were glass blowers who could produce glass to match the colour and style of the stained glass windows in the cathedral. The three round stained glass windows were not destroyed but some of the panels would have to be replaced. Enormous task as each window has 1100 panels and is 42 feet in diameter.

Norte Dame is not the first place of worship at that location. There have been a series of buildings erected there for over 2,000 years. It is believed the Romans first built a temple at that site and then with the coming of Christianity, the temple became an early church.

The building of the present cathedral was begun in the 13th century and took over 200 years to complete. Over the next centuries, the cathedral changed as successive church groups made many additions and alterations. She was ransacked and desecrated during the French Revolution and turned into a warehouse, but she survived.

I count myself lucky to have visited Notre Dame on four occasions and I hoped that I would have that privilege at least one more time. My favourite memory is the one when my sister Eva, and I vacationed in Europe back in 2000. We arrived in Paris completely exhausted from our long flight from Calgary and the equally long train ride from Amsterdam.

At our hotel, we stumbled upstairs and fell into our beds. In the morning we were awakened by the ringing of the bells of Notre Dame. We opened our windows wide so we could hear every last peel. From our window, we could see the spire and the two towers as they reached the sky. We felt privileged to have been given such a stirring welcome by the City of Lights.

Eva and I walked into the Cathedral and then stood for a moment to let our eyes get adjusted to the darkness. We were awe-struck by the enormity and grandeur of the place. So tall, so long, so hushed. There were many of us in there and yet it was so quiet. There was a reverence we all felt and automatically exhibited.

I felt very small and humbled as I sat down to take it all in. Those beautiful stained glass windows, the magnificent organ, the columns that reached high above me, and all the statuary around the perimeter. I was particularly moved by Nicolas Coustou’s Pieta, showing Mary cradling the crucified Christ.

Notre Dame is being rebuilt and she will be as big and imposing as before. She will once again be revered and people will come from far and wide to be impressed by her. In the future, when she is another 850 years older, no doubt the cathedral will see many more changes, but what is 850 years to one such as her? Notre Dame will be looking even further into her future, standing tall, imposing, majestic and awe-inspiring, but always welcoming.