The tragic burning of the Notre Dame cathedral in Paris is just a recent example of the fate these classic structures face.
The photo accompanying this short article is not of the Parisian cathedral that recently burned, but of the Rheims (Reims) cathedral some 40 miles from Paris — and its destruction was not due to sparks from workers refurbishing the structure, but by German bombs.
The photo was taken by Wilmington’s Maynard McKay in 1917 soon after he arrived in France to serve with the American Friends Service Committee, a Quaker relief and justice group. He was one of 12 local Quaker volunteers who served in France working with civilian victims of the war.
The Notre Dame cathedral is generally considered the most famous of such structures, but it is not viewed as the most beautiful in France.
As one source says, “Located in the Champagne-Ardenne region, the city of Reims houses France’s most beautiful and spectacular cathedral. This gothic art masterpiece was the site of the coronation of the French kings of France, the result of a perfect balance between Church and State that made the French monarchy a political model throughout Europe until modern times. Together with the adjacent 9th-century Abbey of Saint Remi and Tau Palace, the former archiepiscopal residence, the cathedral constitutes a UNESCO World Heritage Site.”
On Sept. 4, 1914 the city of Rheims, including the cathedral, was bombed shortly before the German troops had arrived in the city. On Sept. 13, the French recaptured the city, but the Germans resumed the bombing.
“On September 19 a shell fell on the cathedral’s north tower. A fire broke out and engulfed the entire structure, while the bombing continued. Restoration work was started in 1919 and the cathedral reopened in 1938. Work inside has continued ever since.”
With reference to the current Notre Dame cathedral in Paris, it did not take long for the question of just what plan would be followed in rebuilding the structure: Would it maintain its traditional form or integrate some new idea.
The French Senate soon declared that the restored structure must be restored to “its last known visual state” – the traditionalists have won!
I wonder how long it will take to rebuild Notre Dame cathedral?
Neil Snarr is Professor Emeritus at Wilmington College.