Notre Dame Is Burning
The world is watching in helpless horror as Notre Dame burns. The spire just collapsed.
Being an informed citizen is a value that many people hold dear. But with the ubiquity of 24-hour news access it can also break your heart. And there is something to be said for acknowledging our feelings of helplessness. I’m not advocating for blissful ignorance. But I want to acknowledge that not being able to stop the flooding in the midwest or keep Cyclone Idai from devastating more of Mozambique, Zimbabwe, and Malawi or put out the fire in Notre Dame is heartbreaking.
Today that helplessness feels physical and I am trying not to feel hopeless. Seeing one of the world’s most famous gothic cathedrals glowing from within as the fire rages on is devastating.
Maintenance and protection of this universally treasured cultural heritage is not just the responsibility of the French government or the Catholic Church. It is the shared obligation of these 13 million history lovers.
Nor is it the sole responsibility of UNESCO. Notre Dame is only one of a staggering 1092 world heritage sites that meet their ten selection criteria. The World Heritage Fund is only able to provide US$4 million in preservation funding to these sites annually. And it currently lists 54 sites as in danger.
World heritage sites unite people across cultures with a shared love of both the natural world and the best of our built world. We claim to cherish these wonders of the world but who is willing to pay for their protection and preservation?
“Watching the flames swallowing up such a universally beloved testament to the staggering creativity that humanity is capable of, we recognize how tethered we are to each other, how fragile and fleeting everything here is — and how starved for beauty we all are these days.
Our collective breath is taken in such moments because that breath is our commonality showing itself.” — John Pavlovitz
If our cultural heritage is to survive inevitable risks and catastrophe we have to invest in it.
Don’t just stand in front of Notre Dame and take selfies. The mere €8.50 fee to tour Notre Dame is not enough to protect this beloved cathedral in perpetuity. It is better than nothing but if you can afford it, order “skip-the-line” tickets ahead of time. They are only about $23USD or US$47 to climb the tower. Both include a tour guide that is well worth the money. You can also tour the crypts for only €6. Not only do you get to explore the core of this historic cathedral, your money supports the organization that maintains it.
Buy a postcard or children’s books or a coffee table book from the gift shop.
The cathedral survived the French Revolution.¹ And it can survive this fire. But protection is the best form of prevention. And that protection was requested two years ago at an estimated cost of $180 million.²
We will learn more throughout this week about what caused the fire and how we can prevent any future damage. And we need to answer that call.
But for now, let’s leave the firefighting to the firefighters. They’re the experts. And the heroes the world needs right now.
According to a BBC translation: “The French civil security agency, Sécurité Civile, has responded to US President Donald Trump’s suggestion that “flying water tankers” should be used to fight the Notre Dame fire.”
“The agency tweeted, “The drop of water by air on this type of building could indeed result in the collapse of the entire structure.”
“The weight of the water and the intensity of the drop at low altitude could indeed weaken the structure of Notre-Dame and result in collateral damage to the buildings in the vicinity,” it said.
Earlier today, Trump had said on Twitter, “Perhaps flying water tankers could be used to put it out. Must act quickly!”