The following is a story I created, not intended to be considered as history, but rather to make a point. After today’s tragic fire at Notre-Dame, some suggest that, due to inarguable past sins of the Catholic Church and a decided world-wide western bias, perhaps we should not rush to rebuild this iconic cathedral. I have a different perspective, not one of Catholic partisanship, but one from the neighborhood.
Today was sad, for les Francais, for Catholics, art and architectural historians and for those who simply appreciate the beauty and majesty and variegation of human expression.
But amidst that sadness there have been public expressions about our preference for western monuments over those in the east, Central America or Persia; critiques of the Church’s role in historical imperialism and patriarchy and perhaps opinions the pedophiliac chickens have finally come home to roost, Catholic karma, as it were.
Instead, I choose to see a woman I’ll name Irène Maldanado, née Chevalier, ninety years old, a widow. Her husband, Roger, passed away fifteen years ago. Irène still lives in the same flat she and Roger rented together in the 7th Arrondissement, across Pont Neuf from Île de la Cité, after they married at Notre Dame de Paris cathedral in 1950.
Iréne does not see pedophilia or making Catholics of colonized Vietnamese or Algerians, or uncounted billions in the Vatican bunkers.
Iréne only sees Roger, lean and handsome, dapper in his one double-breasted suit, a thin mustache and a Galoises always between his lips. It’s springtime in Paris, 1950. Paris is still rebuilding from the war. But there is hope in the air. Evil was defeated, at huge cost, but nonetheless. Some interesting Americans are here. They can hear jazz at night in their neighborhood.
They married at Notre Dame, not because it was historic or iconic, but because it was the nicest church near where they lived. It was a beautiful ceremony. After, they shared fish and duck, baguettes and cheeses, pastries and simple wines with their families and friends.
Iréne will never forget that day at her local church.
All four of her and Roger’s kids were baptized, took their First Communion, were confirmed and married at Notre Dame.
And today it burned.
Iréne is profoundly sad, even after everything else that has happened.
She misses Roger as she watches her church burn, from across la Seine.