Victorians share sorrow over fire ravaging Parisian landmark

Historians, Christians of all denominations and students of art and architecture in Victoria were in mourning and shock Monday after learning of the fire at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris.

Catherine Harding, associate professor of Gothic art and architecture in medieval studies at the University of Victoria, said Notre Dame resonates with everyone for its architecture, artwork, history, the gargoyles that line its exterior, its bells and stained-glass windows and stories such as Victor Hugo’s Hunchback of Notre-Dame.

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“It is a building of such enormous importance,” Harding said.

“It has world-class medieval sculpture, the stained glass is famous, there are all kinds of statues and relics,” Harding said. “There is just treasure after treasure after treasure.”

She said news of the fire at the cathedral, which dates to 1163, strikes everybody around the world who has any emotional attachment to history, Paris or the church.

Roman Catholic Bishop Gary Gordon, of the Diocese of Victoria, said Notre Dame de Paris is one of those special churches for Catholics.

“Every diocese in this country has a Notre Dame church. Ours is in Port Alberni,” said Gordon. “It is such an icon for Roman Catholics globally.

“It’s not like we are totally connected to physical things, but they represent something deeply spiritual,” he said.

Rev. Barton Priebe, lead pastor at Central Baptist Church, said when he visited Paris, he stopped at the church and stood in awe of the art, the building and the world-renowned stained-glass windows.

“It was built to honour the glory of God,” said Priebe. “That was what they thought when they built those buildings, to point to something higher than ourselves.”

Hélène Cazes, UVic professor of French and medieval studies, who is spending this term teaching in Toulouse in southern France, said the fire has struck a blow to everyone in the country.

“Everybody is in touch with their TV and talking about it, even in Toulouse,” Cazes said.

Cazes said the history of Notre Dame Cathedral makes it an icon for all the French people, even those who are no longer very religious.

It’s a site where sacred buildings preceded the cathedral, dating back even before the Romans. It is a building that has unified the French people, apart from its sacredness.

The building is also a monument to French technical ingenuity. Its use of exterior flying buttresses allowed its steeples to be built to new heights. Its arrangement of the seating for the choir and the acoustics of the interior allowed musicians to pioneer new methods of harmony.

So while people the world over might think first of the Eiffel Tower when thinking of Paris, for the French, it’s Notre Dame de Paris, Our Lady of Paris.

“So all the Catholic churches all over France are now ringing their bells, this knell, the very mournful sound of one note ringing,” Cazes said.

rwatts@timescolonist.com

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