The Cultural Significance of Notre Dame de Paris
In the wake of the fire that engulfed parts of the Notre Dame last night in Paris, the centuries-old cathedral is more than just a scene of tragedy. It is the beating heart of a people, a nation and the world.
On Monday, news of the fire at Notre Dame reverberated around the world. As the 300ft-tall Gothic spire collapsed, the cathedral became the centre of awe and sadness as Parisians and the world stood and watched the historical monument erupt in flames against the backdrop of a rather tranquil sky.
Such an aesthetic scene seems too reminiscent of a painting one would come across at a gallery in the Louvre but here, at the Notre Dame, people stood in solidarity as they witnessed an aspect of their culture burn to ash.
The Notre Dame has been the seat of religious, cultural and aesthetic value in France for centuries ever since construction started in 1163 (the cathedral is 856 years old).
Barbara Drake Boehm, senior curator at the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s medieval Cloisters branch in New York was visibly shell-shocked at the news fire had devastated the Notre Dame.
“It’s not one relic, not one piece of glass – it’s the totality,” she said.
“This great hulking monument of stone has been there since 1163. It’s come through so many trials.”
Historically, France has been at the forefront of religious turmoil in Europe with events such as St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre in 1572 seeing approximately 5,000 to 30,000 Huguenots (French Calvinist Protestants) assassinated by Catholics.
The last time the cathedral suffered such damage on this scale when statues of saints were destroyed under the iconoclasm during the French Revolution between 1789 and 1799.
“It’s the very soul of Paris, but it’s not just for French people. For all humanity, it’s one of the great monuments to the best of civilization,” says Boehm.
The cultural significance and legacy of the Notre Dame transcends Paris as well as European history, it’s splendour has been admired by the world with more than 13 million tourists visiting the site every year.
It has also been the inspiration for the Disney classic, The Hunchback of Notre Dame in 1996.
On Monday, more than 400 firefighters battled the flames until they died out and it is estimated that it will take decades to repair the damages.
Attention has now turned to the future of the monument with President Macron stating in a speech outside Notre Dame that his focus in planning the rebuilding of the cathedral.
Experts said that the building needed a £129.5million (€150million) restoration, but the state had only offered €40million.
However the tragedy saw an outpour in donations to invest in repairing the infrastructure of the Notre Dame with French billionaire, Francois-Henri Pinault planning to donate €100 million, showing just how much Notre Dame means to the people.