In an era of intense polarization and rhetorical divide, the only thing that seems to bring people together is tragedy.
On the Monday of the holiest week of the year for Christians, the week leading up to Easter, one of the world’s best-known cathedrals erupted in flames: Notre Dame de Paris. As images rapidly spread overseas via the internet, hearts across the continents sank as they saw Notre Dame burn.
Construction of the cathedral began in the year 1163, but the original contractors would never see it finished. Their children and grandchildren wouldn’t, either — but each generation moved forward with the project. Notre Dame was finally completed in the year 1345, almost two centuries later.
You’d be hard pressed to find someone who hasn’t been touched by Notre Dame. Whether you’ve encountered the cathedral in literature, film or you’ve been lucky enough to see it in person, it’s a fixture of our imaginations and history.
It’s the site of numerous significant historical events, from its transformation to a “Temple of Reason” during the French Revolution to the crowning of French emperor Napoleon Bonaparte. Some of these events are inspiring and grand, something Western civilization can be proud of. Others are a dark stain on history.
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Long ago, rich patrons poured money into Notre Dame’s construction as their almsgiving for the year, while poor workers spent their lives on a building they’d never see finished. It houses statues that whisper of anti-Semitism, and it’s a place of worship for a religion whose followers aren’t spotless, historically or even today.
Despite these events, the cathedral is a symbol of where we came from and how we arrived at our current destination. Notre Dame stands as a portal of transcendence for all those who see it.
Even though it is a cathedral built for Catholics, it’s recognized far and wide by people of all religious, political and cultural backgrounds as something more than just a meeting place for one religion. Thousands gathered to mourn its destruction, and thousands more bore witness to the impact of the stone structure.
We often wonder: Why does suffering exist? Why does tragedy occur? As said by John Eldredge in his film “A Story Worth Living,” “The question should not just be why is there so much suffering in the world. The question should be, why is there so much beauty?”
What makes a priest run into a burning building to save relics? What makes million-dollar companies donate to rebuild a cathedral? We always tell ourselves we are hunting for beauty, but we only seem to notice it when it is engulfed in flames.
The people who built and maintained the cathedral may or may not have had pure intentions. Some may question the authenticity of the crown of thorns or the relics inside. Someone may not believe in the icons commemorated in Notre Dame, or even the God of the cathedral, but something about its beauty still intrigues them.
Ultimately, the art and architecture of the structure all point to something truly magnificent. We Christians would say this is the glory of God, the creativity of humans and the beauty of Christ. The purpose of cathedrals like Notre Dame is to show the true awesomeness of the Lord to people who haven’t seen Him before. Its beauty speaks without using words, and it’s impossible not to see.
Notre Dame is a symbol of our history, good and bad. We can learn from the mistakes and look to the magnificent. Whether Protestant or Catholic, young or old, conservative or liberal, the Notre Dame fire reminds us that some things are significant to all of us despite our differences.
There is real truth out there, and there is real darkness. The cathedral holds symbols of both, and by recognizing this past, we can choose which one to pursue as we go forward.
Olivia Rogers is a community editor for the Collegian, the secretary of the College Republicans at Kansas State and a junior in political science. Peter Loganbill is an assistant news editor for the Collegian and a junior in mass communications. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Collegian. Please send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.