Notre Dame loss so much more than stone, timber

Committed Christians believe in an all-powerful God whose majesty and beauty cannot be comprehended, much less matched.

Yet on rare occasions, humans are moved to incredible feats of creation as testaments of the depth of their faith.

More than 850 years ago, on an island in the Seine River in Paris, an attempt at such creation began. For generations, thousands of craftsmen — using only hand tools for the work and paper on which to make engineering calculations — labored. It took a full century for most of what they attempted to be completed, another for it to be pronounced finished.

Thus was the Cathedral of Our Lady of Paris — known to much of the world as Notre Dame de Paris — brought into existence.

On Monday, as crowds gathered in the street, many singing hymns, the great cathedral was ravished by fire.

From throughout the world and from people of many faiths, words of sorrow and condolence flowed into France. A high-ranking Sunni Muslim cleric, Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb of Egypt, said what many were feeling: “Our hearts are with our brothers in France.”

Notre Dame can never be restored to what it was, though the French vow they will try. For one thing, as a forestry expert has noted, there are no trees on the continent big enough to replace the massive timbers that once supported the cathedral’s roof.

Perhaps more pertinent, the craftsmanship — the blood, sweat, tears and prayers — that went into Notre Dame cannot be replicated. All that is gone forever.

Offers of money, resources and expertise already are flooding into Paris. No doubt many in our instant-gratification culture hope that within a year or two — a decade, perhaps — the cathedral can be restored to the appearance it had on Sunday.

Let us hope the French reject that sort of timetable. The kind of craftsmanship required is not just engineering expertise. It is attempting to replicate what, in important ways, was an act of worship — an offering of the very best the French had to offer.

Seldom do we as human beings in modern times display such dedication.

The loss this week, then, was more than timber and stone. The question now is whether we human beings of the 21st century have what it takes to rebuild and replace all that was lost in Paris.

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