Thanks be to God: it was not all lost. But yes. Notre Dame burned yesterday; it was with a voice near tears that Mom told it to us over breakfast. After that, with the queer, helpless, sick feeling that one has about a tragedy one feels deeply but cannot do anything about, a tragedy furthermore which is developing, and which one can learn about the progress of, but cannot predict or affect, we read and looked and followed the news and tried to comprehend it. Before lunch, I think, the spire and roof fell. In the afternoon, we were warned that the cathedral might not be saved at all. One of the two great rectangular towers had caught fire. After dinner, we read with relief that the cathedral was saved. The fire is out now.
Yet it still does not seem real. It seems out of place, out of proportion. Notre Dame has seen so much, has been through so much. It seemed thirty-six hours ago as if Notre Dame had been around for ever so long, and would be around for ever so long: one, five, ten, twenty, thirty, fifty, a hundred years from now, we or our children could simply go and see it. It would be there. But yesterday—yesterday we faced the very real possibility that it might not be there. That this beautiful work of man’s subcreation, raised to the glory and the worship of God, might no longer be more than a heap of blackened rubbish. It was a strange and horrifying thought, a reminder of our mortality and the mortality of all earthly things.
And a part of the feeling of unreality was because this seems so random, this horrible fire chancing to burn on Monday of Holy Week. It is not a part of a grand picture, or not to our eyes. If Notre Dame was lost, it would not be lost to some great cataclysmic war. It would not even be lost to some terrorist. It would simply be lost by accident. Notre Dame caught fire one day. Now it is gone.
It is not all lost. The towers and their facade remain, and the Crown of Thorns was rescued in time; but so much is gone. While the Rose Windows have survived, other treasures are gone. The roof and its intricacies of beauty are gone. The spire is gone. And some sense of security is gone. We have been forced to realize that not even the most solid of stone churches or the most soaring of spires are immortal. They are frightfully mortal. It is yet another example of the knife’s edge the Christian must walk: not to despair in God because of the loss of cathedrals, yet to love cathedrals too. And it hurts the feet to walk on a knife’s edge.