Notre Dame is deeply embedded in the national and world culture and imaginary

Not a small part of a planet watched in horror how flames were consuming the Notre Dame Cathedral. Interestingly, we hear voices saying lets rebuild the Cathedral as European project. What does this loss mean for France and do you think a rebuilding could mean something for Europe? Read few comments.

Florent ParmentierLecturer in Sciences Po

Notre-Dame has lived with the Parisians for the last 8 centuries, from the Kingdom of France to the Republican regimes. The architecture has evolved (Roman, Gothic), and the surroundings in time. It was magnified by Victor Hugo, and many others artists. The whole political spectrum agreed on the loss, from extreme-left Jean-Luc Mélenchon (Notre-Dame as a place for asylum) to Marine Le Pen and identity-based politics. Fire and water are the worst enemies of architecture, the real situation is not clear when we are talking.

When this kind of monument is partially destroyed, we should think about rebuilding in a very careful way. We need all the skilled specialists of renovation, coming from all over Europe. Times of Cathedral have lasted for centuries, and were very European. I imagine this is what people mean.

Jean-Yves Camus, Director, Observatoire des radicalités politiques (ORAP), Associate Research Fellow, Institut de Relations Internationales et Stratégiques (IRIS)

This loss, thanks to the wonderful work of the Paris firefighters, is not a total one. If it were not for their dedication, skills and commitment to saving what could be saved, the disaster could have been even worse. This being said, an appeal to public funding of the restoration work has been decided by the French authorities yesterday evening, and this means that individuals from all over the world, not only from Europe, can contribute, even with a small donation. UNESCO Secretary General Audrey Azoulay has said her organization will also fund the rebuilding of the cathedral, and that means international funding as well. I hope EU funding will also help. Notre-Dame is not only part of French history, it belongs to the patrimony of Christianity all over the world, and is a testimony of the European genius. So any contribution from Europe that will help rebuild this landmark monument is most welcome.

John Keiger, Professor, Department of International Studies (POLIS), University of Cambridge

I don’t think it would be very politically astute for President Macron, in particular, to suggest that the rebuilding of Notre Dame should be a European project. As we approach the May European elections in France Euroscepticism is on the increase, according to recent French opinion polls. Macron has built his political campaign for the European elections on the idea of a European renaissance. If he were to be associated with an idea that badged the rebuilding of Notre Dame as European he would politicise a national site of memory and national symbol. The political fall-out could be very serious for him and for France.

Arthur Goldhammer, Senior Affiliate, Center for European Studies, Harvard University

I think rebuilding Notre-Dame will be a global project. Money is already pouring in from around the world. I myself have contributed. But given the centrality of Notre-Dame to France’s image of itself, the reconstruction will remain essentially a French project. Strong cooperation from France’s EU partners would, however, be a gesture of solidarity and good will that might help to strengthen intra-European bonds at a time of growing concern about the solidity of the European Union.

James Shields, Professor in French Studies, University of Warwick

This is a terrible blow to France’s historical and religious heritage, but its repercussions go much further. Notre-Dame is not just a French and European treasure but also a World Heritage site, given its importance as a place of pilgrimage for Catholics across the world and as home to many priceless religious relics. So the pain of this tragedy is being felt not just in France but across the globe.

Despite the tragedy, there are three main compensations.

First, it could have been worse, much worse: the main structure, the iconic bell towers and many invaluable treasures were preserved.

Second, the tragedy has prompted a rare moment of national unity in a context of bitter political division as parties suspend their European election campaigns.

And third, at a moment when national-populist parties and their isolationist message are on the rise across the EU and world, the tragedy has prompted an impressive display of international solidarity throughout Europe and from Washington to Moscow. With many millions of euros already pledged to help rebuild the cathedral, with offers of practical support from across the globe, and with European Council President Donald Tusk leading calls for the EU to rally round France, this tragedy has already become the focus of a great effort of international solidarity. Proof again that from the worst of adversity good can come.

This devastating fire will now become part of the great cathedral’s history, a destructive event from which it will rise again like a parable of the Easter story itself.

What will be the political fall-out in France? Macron and his government might be accused of not having done enough to ensure that a tragedy like this never occurred. On the other hand, French presidents tend to grow in stature at moments of national adversity and Macron did well to cancel his scheduled televised address on the country’s recent “great debate” and take his place alongside firefighters at the cathedral, finding words to express both the national mood of shock and sadness and a resolve to rebuild from the destruction. Here was a president playing his role well as national leader – a role that will come under pressure again when normal politics is resumed and Macron faces the wrath of Yellow Vest protesters and political opponents once again.

Rainbow MurrayReader in Politics at Queen Mary, University of London

Notre Dame holds a very special place in France’s heart.  It is a hugely symbolic and historic building that has witnessed – and survived – many of the great moments of French history, including the French revolution and both World Wars.  It is the most popular tourist attraction in Paris, receiving more visitors per year than the Eiffel Tower, reflecting its global appeal – as evidenced by the global outpouring of sorrow and support when the fire took hold.  Alongside its historical significance, it is an important place of worship for French Catholics, and contains some of Christianity’s most important relics.  It is also a building of huge architectural interest, and the rose windows are some of Europe’s most remarkable art.  In addition, the cathedral is an important part of popular culture and folklore, not least thanks to the novel and subsequent film about the Hunchback of Notre Dame (in French, simply titled Notre Dame de Paris).  Paris has recently had to come to terms with several horrific terrorist attacks; seeing one of its favourite landmarks engulfed in flames has added to the collective sense of loss, but also brought out another wave of Parisian resilience and determination to overcome.

Donald Tusk has encouraged Europe to come together in the effort of rebuilding one of its most beloved buildings, stating that “Notre-Dame de Paris est Notre-Dame de toute l’Europe. We are all with Paris today.” As Europe faces its own crises, not least with Brexit and the rise of Euroscepticism in some other member states, Notre Dame offers an opportunity for Europe to act positively in support of a building that is situated in one member state but forms part of the cultural heritage and collective consciousness of the entire continent.

Carine Germond, Associate Professor, Norwegian University of Science and Technology

The fire that has devastated Notre Dame Cathedral has reminded us of the immanent fragility of human achievements, even if they have survived the passage of time, wars, revolutions and upheavals. Notre Dame is of course a French and Parisian historical landmark; but it is also much more than that. It is to some extent also representative of the complex intertwinement of French and European history and culture. Notre Dame was a venerable 850-year old centre of the Catholic faith, which over the centuries has shaped France and Europe and was as much a unifying as a divisive force among Europeans. It also showed the architectural and artistic genius of its builders and artists, painters, stone carvers, sculptors, across the age.

Many of the French rulers that were crowned or married in the cathedral had a lasting impact on France and Europe. Key moments of French and European history have also been celebrated in the Cathedral, from the bells tolling in November 1918 to celebrate the end of the First World War to Charles de Gaulle celebrating the liberation of Paris in 1944. Closer to us, solemn masses, gathering world leaders, have paid tributes to several Great French Presidents who have been influential for shaping European integration.

Notre Dame is also deeply embedded in the national and world culture and imaginary. From the great writers who have immortalized it as a backdrop for their stories — most famous among them is certainly Victor Hugo’s hunchback of Notre Dame – to the part menacing, part funny gargoyle figures which so often provided tourists for picture-perfect photos and selfies.

All the above and the fact that there is always something of Notre Dame that one can relate to, individually or collectively, may explain the vivid emotions and deep feeling of loss that have gripped many in Paris, France, Europe and beyond as they watched the monument engulfed in flames.

Rebuilding Notre Dame is certainly important for the French people and government, for all of the aforementioned reasons and more. But does or should it mean something for Europe? It would be naïve to expect that a European mobilization to re-build Notre Dame would suffice to solve all the manifold and complex problems that Europe faces at the moment. But mobilizing all available goodwill and energies in a constructive – both literally and figuratively – project that underscores the shared history, culture and sentiment of Europeans rather than their differences may be a step forward to bridging widening gaps among Europeans.

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