In the aftermath of a French tragedy, historian of modern France Dr Andrew WM Smith believes the nation’s broken heart will repair itself in time after a huge blaze significantly damaged the Notre-Dame.
Here, the senior lecturer at the University of Chichester envisions what the future holds for the iconic landmark and believes its bells will ring again.
Parisian firefighters last night saved centuries of history and a potent symbol of the French nation. The sight of the altar crucifix still standing amidst the rubble was a vision of hope.
So too the human chain which carried to safety priceless artwork and irreplaceable holy relics like the robes of Saint-Louis, and the Crown of Thorns.
Tragically, the 12th century wooden framework of the cathedral – known as the forest and built from 52 acres of vast ancient oak trees – looks to have burned.
Yet some of the transcendent stained-glass Rose Windows, depicting biblical scenes in jewel-like colours have survived the inferno.
Smoke rises around the altar in front of the cross inside the Notre Dame
The cathedral’s structure and its iconic bell towers still stand, with their array of vast bells dating to 1681.
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The bells of Notre-Dame have rung to mark revolution, reaction, occupation, and liberation. They rang to mark the revolutionary Festival of Reason in 1793, to mark the coronation of Napoleon Bonaparte as Emperor in 1804, and they rang for the royal restoration of the Bourbons in 1830.
France’s history was marked by rituals of power at the nation’s heart and what Victor Hugo described as the “mighty magnetism” of the bells of Notre-Dame.
A picture of the Notre-Dame cathedral taken before the fire broke out
Since its 12th century origins the cathedral has been modified, restored and developed, most notably by Eugène Viollet-le-Duc from 1844, but also by clergy patching and adapting the fabric of the cathedral.
As its great edifice evolved and outlived individuals, Hugo noted that “time is the architect, the nation is the builder”.
The cathedral survived world wars; barricaded in 1918 against bombardment, it also survived Nazi plans to torch Paris. It played a symbolic part in the liberation of France too, when the bells rang for General Charles De Gaulle in August 1944 even as bullets still flew.
The fire raging at the Parisian cathedral
For kings, emperors, generals and presidents, the cathedral has been a constant, but so too for ordinary Parisians and visitors from across the world.
For centuries, the cathedral has dominated the Paris skyline. Its disfigurement will leave a scar at the heart of Paris for decades to come, though the collective effort required for its rebuilding may yet lend France a common purpose.
How the Notre-Dame fire took hold
Last night, fire fighters pumped water from the river Seine to quench the blaze, Parisians sang devotional hymns in the streets outside, and Archibishop of Paris Michel Aupetit invited the churches of France to ring their bells in solidarity.
The fire has been a disaster, but as throughout French history the bells of Notre-Dame will ring again.