At the start of Holy Week in Catholic Liturgy, on Monday, April 15, 2019, the unthinkable took place: Notre-Dame de Paris Cathedral — that had stood for 850 years through the French Revolution and two World Wars — was on fire. Not only were the Catholics of Paris and the rest of France impacted, but those of the whole world. Even non-believers, who saw in Notre-Dame a masterpiece of human genius, were moved. For a moment, it was thought that the entire structure would collapse.
Gerard Leclerc, writing in the magazine France Catholique, noted: “Notre-Dame de Paris is no ordinary artwork. It is the magnificent expression of Christian faith that a multitude of craftsmen have raised to a rare degree of perfection. Through it, beauty is placed at the service of truth, the truth that leads to salvation.” As the Archbishop of Paris, Michel Aupetit, said: “Notre-Dame Cathedral is a jewelry case, and the greatest treasury it holds is Jesus present in the Holy Eucharist.”
What must we make of this event: was it an accident or a crime? If it was criminal, who would profit? Whether the fire was a criminal act or not, we can also ask ourselves: what spiritual meaning might this fire have; is God trying to send us a sign, a message?
Let us begin by answering the first question. Days have gone by but the causes of the fire remain unknown.
By eight o’clock on the night of the fire, while flames reached 30 meters high and no one had any idea what caused the fire, the newly appointed Prosecutor of the Paris Republic, Rémy Heitz (a personal appointee of French President Emmanuel Macron) stated that criminal intent was not at fault and that the fire was linked to a construction accident.
The Prosecutor’s statement raised an outcry from the site’s experts, firemen, craftsmen and architects who feared that none of the work undertaken could possibly have caused such a fire, at such a location and at such speed. Building professionals and firemen assert that 800 year-old oak beams cannot burn since they are practically petrified. Bernard Mouton, Notre-Dame’s former chief architect until 2013, also had doubts concerning the accident: “A major source of heat had to be present to start such a fire. Oak is particularly resistant.”
On the following day, April 16, during a televised broadcast, President Macron declared: “Yes, we will rebuild a more beautiful Notre-Dame Cathedral, and I want this done within the next five years.” Why five years? In five years Paris will host thousands of tourists for the 2024 Olympics and the 2025 World Fair.
What needs to be said, and could well be the answer to the question ‘whom does the crime profit?’, is that two years earlier a tourist project had been planned for the area of Ile de la Cité (City Island) where the cathedral is located. Thierry Meyssan explains this in an article on the internet entitled The Hidden Stakes of the Restoration of Notre-Dame1:
“L’Élysée (the official residence of the President of the French Republic) has used the fire of Notre-Dame de Paris to carry out a project that was in limbo. It has set new rules, outside of respect for the heritage component and normal tendering procedures, not to restore the cathedral, but to transform the Ile de la Cité into Europe’s leading tourist destination on the eve of the 2024 Olympic Games. To avoid judicial constraints, the hypothesis of a construction site accident was arbitrarily imposed.”
As early as 2015, there have been discussions of building restaurants and shops under the square that faces the cathedral, which meant the cathedral would need to have been closed during the construction phase. Many people fear the roof and spire will not be rebuilt as it was before the fire, but according to more modern styles. Already, world class architects have provided blueprints for the rebuilding of the cathedral’s roof and spire. Several renderings include a glass roof to afford the tourists a scenic view of Paris. Since Napoleon, the state has been responsible for the upkeep of the churches. Notre-Dame Cathedral belongs to the state of France, and the state will thus have the last say in the matter.
We may never know the true causes of the fire. Let us move on to the second question: What spiritual meaning should we attribute to this event? Was it a warning from Heaven, a call to conversion, or a symbol of the Church’s current state?
A few days after the fire, Bishop Dominique Rey of the Frejus-Toulon diocese, wrote the following:
“The dramatic fire that consumed essential parts of Notre-Dame de Paris is no doubt a sign for our times, but a sign for whom and for what? Since Monday night, Europe’s most visited monument [receiving 14 million visitors per year], the cathedral of the eldest daughter of the Church [France], has turned to ashes.
“The whole world has listened and cried as it watched this wound to the heart of Paris. But beyond this stone building and the architectural treasure, it represents, beyond the treasures of memory, art and the spirituality it contains; it is a more pressing call that resounds in our hearts.
“This fire is not a simple accident but a sign of our times. Will we hear the warning to build a new spiritual temple that was destroyed by the evils of today? A temple whose cornerstone is Christ, and whose keystones are Faith, Hope and Charity, the virtues that lead us to God.”
On April 16, Paris Archbishop Michel Aupetit declared what follows to “Le Figaro”, a French daily newspaper:
“Beyond rebuilding the stonework, it is the whole Church we must rebuild through the conversion of our heart. Our Lord told St. Francis of Assisi: ‘Go rebuild My Church that is falling to pieces…’ We have lost the beauty of the jewelry case but we have not lost the treasure within: The Word and the Body of Christ offered up for us.
“The spiritual sign given us through the burning of our greatest church on this first day of Holy Week, whereby Christians enter into the Week of the Passion and Resurrection of Christ, brings great sorrow. What does the Lord want to tell us through this trial? Faced with deadly scandal, we are heading towards resurrection. Our hope will not fail us since it is founded, not on buildings made of stone, forever in need of repair, but upon the Risen Lord who remains for eternity.”
On April 17, 2019, Bishop Athanasius Schneider, Auxiliary Bishop of the archdiocese of Saint Mary in Astana, Kazakhistan, said the following concerning the Notre-Dame fire2:
“The lightning vehemence with which fire engulfed the Cathedral of Notre-Dame de Paris left one with the impression that an unexpected event had come like a bolt from out of the blue. And yet, viewed as a phenomenon, this tragedy came after a series of hundreds of systematic arson attacks on various sacred objects belonging to the Catholic Church in France over the last year.
“It is also significant that the fire in Notre-Dame occurred at the beginning of Holy Week, which is the heart of the liturgical year for all Catholics. As the facts in the case are still unknown, we have no evidence on which to base allegations of a plot to destroy the cathedral. Yet one is left with a queasy feeling inside, especially as one considers the chain of systematic anti-Catholic events, marginalization, discrimination and ridicule which the Catholic faith has undergone at the hands of the French political establishment and French media landscape, both of which are firmly in the hands of the current anti-Christian freemasonry forces in France.
“Notre-Dame is not only the most symbolic cultural and religious sign for the Catholic Church in France. Given that France bears the title, ‘eldest daughter of the Church’, her main cathedral also has deep cultural and religious significance for the entire Catholic world.
“The destruction of a visible sign of such vast proportion as the Cathedral of Notre-Dame de Paris also contains an unmistakable spiritual message. The fire of Notre-Dame is without doubt a powerful and stirring sign which God is giving to His Church in our day. It is an appeal for authentic conversion, first and foremost among the shepherds of the Church.
“The fire has largely destroyed Notre-Dame, a centuries-old masterpiece of the Catholic faith. This is a symbolic and highly evocative representation of what has happened in the life of the Church over the last fifty years, as people have witnessed a conflagration of the Church’s most precious spiritual masterpieces, i.e., the integrity and beauty of the Catholic faith, the Catholic liturgy and Catholic moral life, especially among priests. (...)
“The tragedy of Notre-Dame spontaneously brought to my mind the following words of Our Lord: “Or those eighteen upon whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them, do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who dwelt in Jerusalem? I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish” (Lk 13: 4-5).
“May the fire at the Cathedral of Notre-Dame de Paris, however sad and deplorable it is, rekindle — especially in the shepherds of the Church — a love and zeal for the true Catholic faith and for the ardent evangelization of all those who do not yet believe in Christ. And may they be mindful not to marginalize and cowardly exclude the Jewish and Muslim people from this outstanding form of charity. May the fire at Notre-Dame also serve as a means to inflame in the shepherds of the Church a spirit of true repentance, so that God might grant to all the grace of a renewal in the true faith and in true love for Christ, Our Lord, Our God and Our Savior.
“When the Cathedral of Notre-Dame de Paris began to burn, there was a group of faithful, with children and young people among them, who knelt on the ground and sang the Hail Mary. This was one of the most touching and spiritually powerful signs in the midst of a great tragedy. May Our Lady, Help of Christians, intercede for us, that the shepherds of the Church might begin, with the help of the lay faithful, to rebuild the spiritual ruins in the life of the Church in our day. In the Church, as in Paris, a process of repairing and rebuilding is a sign of hope.”