Photo Credit: Louis H. G,
By Zuleyka Reyes-Cerrillo
Now that a few years have passed since the fire at the Notre Dame Cathedral, the site is being restored to its former glory, and experts are taking extreme precautions to ensure that another catastrophe doesn’t happen. Yet, this isn’t the first time the cathedral has undergone significant challenges. The building has lived through three critical periods: the Reformation, the French Revolution, and WWII. During these periods considerable alterations took place, including the demolishment and decapitation of statues and near annihilation of the building. It was later remodeled by architect and historian Eugene Viollet-le-Duc into a representation that would last up until the fire in 2019. With this latest renovation, emphasis has been on preserving the greatest moments of history of the cathedral.
It is a challenge proving both fateful and controversial. Some people, including the President of France, have argued that the cathedral should be modernized. Despite this notion, many were willing to stand and protest the initial architecture that gave the building its unique design. It is the combination of history and legacies that live on through the building which makes Notre Dame special. Altering the cathedral will only serve to diminish the integrity and symbolic relevance it has amassed over the centuries. Restoring Notre Dame to its original state is a fateful task, and one that will be recognized as a momentous occasion once the rebuilding is complete.
Not only has it served as a place of worship, but it symbolizes years of history and hope to the people of France. The edifice has reinforced for French citizens a sense of cultural identity and connection to their nostalgic past. When the fire broke out, it brought many people a great deal of sorrow. Hundreds of people lined the streets outside the cathedral as it burned while millions more watched from their local broadcast, all anxious to see the events unfold.
Throughout the fateful night of April 15, 2019, firefighters risked their lives to save not only the cathedral, but also the priceless artifacts inside that embody both the church and the Catholic faith. Important treasures at Notre Dame include the crown of Jesus, stained glass works, paintings, and a myriad of other valuable relics, all of which were jeopardized during the fire. Had the treasures been lost, a part of history would have been erased with them. Thanks to the selfless efforts of the first responders that night, the majority of relics were saved and continue to inspire thousands of people worldwide. In a most serendipitous way, the Notre Dame fire gave researchers the opportunity to analyze the building for clues as to its construction during its medieval past. As a result of the material taken from the cathedral, we now know a great deal more about the nearly two centuries over which the Notre Dame cathedral was built.
Even though structural disasters such as the Notre Dame Cathedral fire prove catastrophic, they are most often inevitable. In turn, policies must be in place to try and prevent the most detrimental outcomes to buildings and artifacts. Seeing Notre Dame engulfed in flames made many realize that drastic measures needed to be instituted to ensure lower risks and better protection. However, not all were convinced, and conditions have been left largely unchanged. According to UNESCO, “many World Heritage properties do not have an established policy, plan or process for reducing risks associated with disasters…As a result, hundreds of sites are critically exposed to potential hazards.” With regard to the Notre Dame Cathedral, the best way to address this problem would be to implement procedures that would better prepare it for any future disasters. This could include the installation of fire sprinklers—since it is believed the fire spread so rapidly due to their absence—as well as certain limitations on tourist levels.
Though it extracted a high cost, the fire at the Notre Dame Cathedral also left a valuable lesson to be learned: that preventative measures must be taken in order to better protect and care for historical marvels such as the cathedral. Notre Dame and other World Heritage sites that have weathered many years of challenges and withstood countless momentous events must be protected. Notre Dame has beared witness to both the best and the worst of Parisian history, surviving the French Revolution and standing today as a symbol of hope. To ensure this hope lives on, responsibility must be taken and action must be mustered to preserve this and other historical monuments.