STRASBOURG, France — Monuments are the emotional backbone of France. That accounts for the despair over a blaze that killed no one, yet seared the collective soul. It is the power Notre Dame had — still has, despite the charred scars on its Gothic walls.
It is not only the unique beauty of the Eiffel Tower in Paris, the palaces of Versailles or Mont Saint-Michel proudly facing the sea that make monuments the epitome of France — it is also the sense of nationhood they represent.
“It is the epicenter of our lives,” French President Emmanuel Macron said of the 12th-Century Cathedral.
“It is what we are,” added historian Camille Pascal on CNews.
When one such monument goes up in flames, the country weeps — literally in the case of another historian on national radio, even before the full extent of the damage became clear.
Across the nation, the pain was equally felt, especially because just about every region has a similar treasure to cherish.
In the eastern city of Strasbourg, which has an equally stunning cathedral made of red stone reminiscent of the glow the fire reflected on the towers of Notre Dame in Monday’s twilight, solidarity was immediate.
“All our heart is with Paris and Notre Dame,” the city said in a statement. Several European Union leaders were in town, gathering to address their legislature and discuss treaties, laws and regulations.
“The burning of the Notre Dame Cathedral has again made us aware that we are bound by something more important and more profound than treaties,” said EU Council President Donald Tusk early Tuesday.
For all, it was clear the monument transcended its religious meaning and instead was a symbol of European civilization.
For President Macron too, such is the aura of national monuments that his whole agenda was turned upside down in minutes. After months of violent protests by the yellow vest movement, on Monday evening he was finally to make a solemn televised statement from the Elysee on how to fix the nation’s social fabric.
No sooner had news of the fire spread than Macron cancelled all plans for the TV address and he was heading over to the burning cathedral a few miles up the Seine river that slices Paris in two. The nation fully understood.
Instead of addressing social inequality he was announcing an immediate national fundraising campaign to restore the building.
“I tell you solemnly tonight: This cathedral, we will rebuild it, all together,” Macron said …read more