Notre Dame is not only a loss of history, but a loss to Western culture and religion

At the beginning of Holy Week, Western Civilization lost one of its great relics, the Notre Dame de Paris. There were reactions from many people about this great loss, but there are a few that say a lot about where we are as a society. 

Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) reacted to the fire with a tweet, saying that it was a loss of “art and architecture.” The Rolling Stone ran an article saying that Notre Dame’s fire was an “act of liberation” from the building’s meaning.

There is something telling about these reactions and the way that they miss the mark of what Notre Dame meant. Certain people have shown contempt towards Notre Dame or a misunderstanding that goes to the roots of Notre Dame’s meaning.

Notre Dame de Paris was a symbol of this great civilization.

A cathedral built in the Gothic style over nearly two centuries started in 1163 and was finished in 1345. A true masterpiece, the cathedral has gargoyles and other features that, to the laity below, are functionally invisible. The reason for the intricate design that cannot be seen by most people is that the building was not built for people; it was built to glorify God.

When Omar says that it was “art and architecture” that was lost, she is partially right. But ultimately, she misses the point. 

Notre Dame was not just “art and architecture.” Notre Dame is a house of worship built on a plot of land where a different cathedral stood before it, and before that, a Roman temple.

Rolling Stone magazine is even more ignorant than Omar in their evaluation of the impact of the fire. The magazine published an article the day after the fire, in which a historian from Harvard University was quoted saying that “[Notre Dame’s] burning feels like an act of liberation” from its overburdening meaning. 

Rolling Stone ran that quote in a tweet and was rightly lambasted by those who understand that Notre Dame’s significance is its meaning. The historian was speaking in terms of being able to rebuild Notre Dame however we want, or in his case, however the secular leaders of France and revisionist historians want. 

When Emmanuel Macron said he intends to rebuild Notre Dame more beautiful than ever before, it worried me, because his standards of what is beautiful could mean stripping the cathedral of its Christian symbolism and function. 

The Michigan Daily ran an article with the headline: “The reactions of the fire at Notre Dame are an example of white supremacy.” The article is true to the outlandish headline. The author, Chelsea Racelis, claims that people who were upset about the fire at Notre Dame are exhibiting “white supremacy” and that we should not be upset about Notre Dame when there is loss of historical sites in Syria and terror attacks globally. She is wrong, as we should be upset by all of those loses.

Systematic white supremacy is not the reason that people are upset over Notre Dame. Roman Catholics around the world were hurt because it is a landmark of their faith. People who appreciate history around the world were hurt because some of the rich and deep history that can be learned from Notre Dame was lost. 

Of course there are things that we should also be upset about, but just because the media does not talk about terrorism, Syrian historic sites or any number of terrible things happening around the world does not mean that they should not talk about Notre Dame. They should talk more about those other things, but two wrongs don’t make a right. Being sad about the loss of one of the West’s greatest monuments is not white supremacy — it is a reasonable reaction.

Notre Dame is beautiful because of its Christian roots and the Christian symbolism inside. An “act of liberation” refers to liberating Notre Dame from its Christianity, which would immediately absolve it of all beauty.

Some of the people who did understand the true meaning of Notre Dame were those who went to pray the rosary and sing hymns as the 12th century gothic cathedral was burning. They understood how monumental of a loss Notre Dame is to Catholics around the world. 

I hope that rebuilding efforts will be true to Notre Dame’s role as a Roman Catholic cathedral, because if they are not, the building could lose all meaning.

Connect with Matt on Twitter @matt_lewis99.