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Notre Dame May Be Burning, But She’s Seen This All Before

This morning I woke up to the terrible news that Notre Dame was engulfed in flames. Paris holds an incredibly special place in my heart, as it does for many people, and Notre Dame is at its centre. Reading this heartbreaking news affected me in a way I didn’t expect. But on thinking about it more, I’ve realised that this is just another chapter in the building’s long and storied history.

The thing is, Notre Dame has been added to, broken, repaired, and loved every century since it was first erected. The cathedral is a “living, breathing structure”. Just about every part of the building has been touched and changed as time has gone on. Living through wars, disrepair, and even a stint as a food storehouse, this is far from the first time Notre Dame has faced destruction.

While building began in 1163, construction was completed and the cathedral finally opened its doors some 200 years later. Over 850 years, Notre Dame would be attacked by its own people and those from abroad.

A (Brief) History Of Notre Dame’s Repeated Destruction

In the 16th century, rioting French Protestants desecrated the cathedral, tearing the insides to shreds. During the French Revolution of the 18th century, parts of Notre Dame were destroyed and stolen, including many of its treasures. Statues of kings were beheaded, the church bells were melted, the original spire was torn down and the cathedral became a storehouse for food and wine.

It wasn’t until the early 19th century, when Napoleon Bonaparte came into power and held his coronation in Notre Dame, that the cathedral was returned to its former glory on the emperor’s insistence. The crumbling walls and general disrepair of the building were covered by fabric and draperies during the coronation. However, it was Victor Hugo’s book The Hunchback of Notre Dame that is often credited as the catalyst for repair.

Artist’s rendition of Notre Dame (then the Cathédrale de Reims) burning in 1914.

The famous spire (which tragically crumbled over night) was added to the cathedral in the 1840s. Finally the restoration on the building began work to reinvigorate the history and opulence of the original structure.

Then, between the 1870s and the 1940s, various wars assaulted the city, often with Notre Dame laying in their path. From the Prussians to the Germans, the walls, windows and interior suffered a decades-long battering.

Perhaps Note Dame’s greatest adversary, however, is time. While this fire has been devastating to the iconic structure, if not this, it would have been something else. The iconic roof of the cathedral has stood steady looking over Paris for centuries. She’s weathered every challenge Paris has faced and stood the test of time. This is not the end for Notre Dame, nor is it the worst the old girl has faced.

Our Lady of Paris may be burning. But she will not be burned down.

Image source: Geoffroy Van Der Hasselt

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