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On the Loss of Cathedrals

 
Hagia Sophia without the minarets.

On May 28, the guns were silenced, and the troops were given a rest in preparation for the final assault. Inside the city, the besieged inhabitants, knowing that no relief was coming and that they were no longer capable of resisting another determined battery and push, held a holy procession through the city, a procession which ended at the Great Church. There, they all set aside their own sectarian differences and held the liturgy one final time.

In the early morning hours of the 29th, the Ottoman guns sounded, the armies breached the walls, and Emperor Constantine XI died with his men. By the afternoon, the city had fallen, and the citizens of Constantinople endured three solid days of looting, rape, enslavement, and pillaging as the city was desecrated. In the aftermath, Mehmet II The Great turned Hagia Sophia into a mosque, destroying or covering over the nearly 1,000 years of frescos and mosaics that adorned the great cathedral. It would remain a mosque until Ataturk turned it into a museum, which it remains to this day (though it should be noted that the accursed Erdogan has recently threatened to turn it back into an active mosque).

Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris is still smoldering, though it appears that the shell of the building remains. I am certain that it will be rebuilt. I mourn as does all of France, of course, for the terrible losses for one of the greatest Christian buildings of the high Middle Ages. But France is wealthy and will be able to rebuild if it has the will (and I would say it does). It will not be quite the same, I know, but it will still be a church. Or at least that choice is still open to France. Many of Germany’s cathedrals, and some of England’s too, were bombed into oblivion during World War II, yet most of those have been rebuilt (those that were not were left as ruins deliberately, as war memorials). The Frauenkirche of Dresden was left as rubble by the Soviets, who would not allow it to be rebuilt. In 1993, when I saw her, she was but four broken pillars and a field of charred stones, yet today she is rebuilt. If France wants Notre Dame back, then she will return.

That choice is forever lost to the Orthodox for Hagia Sophia and numerous other churches, not only in Constantinople, but throughout Anatolia. In the aftermath of the Greco-Turkish war of the early 1920s, millions of Christians were forcibly deported from western Turkey, and the cathedral of Nicea was blown up in the war. The many hidden Cappadocian cave churches were looted and defaced as the Turks found them, with frescoes going back to the 800s chiseled away and defaced before the Turkish government seized them for their own protection. Many surviving churches of the Middle East have been destroyed over the past two decades by the ISIS barbarians too. We mourn their loss deeply, but we carry on anyway.

Nothing we make with our own hands can last forever. Neglect, accidents, war, and deliberate destruction await for all things, despite our best efforts, and what is preserved somehow is only preserved for a time. Time will claim everything in the end; it always does. Doubtless, the Athenians hoped the Parthenon would last forever. Certainly, the builders of the Pyramids thought their temples to their dead pharaohs would stand for all eternity, as Percy Shelley wryly wrote in Ozymandias. Herod’s Temple in Jerusalem rivaled the Great Pyramid in its sheer scale and wonder too, and it too is lost. But we have no cause for despair (mourning, of course, is warranted and good, but not despair). We create anew, and we go on creating because this is what our own Creator has made us to do, so long as we have breath in us and life in our bones.

I’ll close with this, a scene from the film Andrei Rublev. Andrei has survived a massacre and desecration within a cathedral he had painted and is despairing. Yet he is visited by the shade of his old companion, Theophanes, who like him despaired years before. Theophanes has learned the folly of his own prior despair and tries to tell Andrei that Andrei is himself wrong now. Andrei will go on, and will eventually find again that he too can create anew, even with the ever-present threat of destruction.

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Published in Religion & Philosophy
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There are 20 comments.

  1. Member

    Thanks, Skip.

    Today’s fire was just awful. Thanks for focusing us on the future.

    • #1
    • April 15, 2019 at 5:17 pm
    • 9 likes
  2. Member

    The Archbishop of Paris should get some brooms, sweep up and celebrate Easter Mass this Sunday. I would find that inspiring. If there is enough faith in France to celebrate Easter in the ruins, perhaps there would be the will to rebuild it as a church and not simply a ‘cultural landmark’ or museum.

    Mass at St. Paul’s in Münster, Germany, after the war.

    • #2
    • April 15, 2019 at 5:24 pm
    • 23 likes
  3. Moderator
    SkipSul Post author

    9thDistrictNeighbor (View Comment):

    The Archbishop of Paris should get some brooms, sweep up and celebrate Easter Mass this Sunday. I would find that inspiring. If there is enough faith in France to celebrate Easter in the ruins, perhaps there would be the will to rebuild it as a church and not simply a ‘cultural landmark’ or museum.

    Mass at St. Paul’s in Münster, Germany, after the war.

    Münster has quite the history of rebuilding. The siege of the Anabaptists in the 1500s left some scars too.

    • #3
    • April 15, 2019 at 5:27 pm
    • 12 likes
  4. Member

    SkipSul: But France is wealthy, and will be able to rebuild if it has the will (and I would say it does).

    a) France’s public debt is 97% of GDP. Why should the French government borrow even more money they don’t have to rebuild a church that French people no longer attend?

    b) What about the separation of church and state? Shouldn’t rebuilding be the archdiocese’s responsibility? At over 13 million tourist visits per year, they can start charging admission.

    • #4
    • April 15, 2019 at 5:38 pm
    • 1 like
  5. Moderator
    SkipSul Post author

    Misthiocracy secretly (View Comment):

    SkipSul: But France is wealthy, and will be able to rebuild if it has the will (and I would say it does).

    a) France’s public debt is 97% of GDP. Why should the French government borrow even more money they don’t have to rebuilt a church that French people no longer attend, and which isn’t even really a top attraction for tourists any more.

    b) What about the separation of church and state? Shouldn’t rebuilding be the archdiocese’s responsibility?

    Isn’t the church government property at this point though?

    • #5
    • April 15, 2019 at 5:45 pm
    • 5 likes
  6. Member

    SkipSul (View Comment):

    Misthiocracy secretly (View Comment):

    SkipSul: But France is wealthy, and will be able to rebuild if it has the will (and I would say it does).

    a) France’s public debt is 97% of GDP. Why should the French government borrow even more money they don’t have to rebuilt a church that French people no longer attend, and which isn’t even really a top attraction for tourists any more.

    b) What about the separation of church and state? Shouldn’t rebuilding be the archdiocese’s responsibility?

    Isn’t the church government property at this point though?

    According to Wikipedia the church and the land are legally the property of the state but the archdiocese is responsible for all expenses and is not taxpayer-subsidized.

    I will be very surprised if the post-Christian French electorate will be eager to pony up. I wager that the French electorate will more likely tell the archdiocese, “if you religionists wanna keep that prime real estate then get your guy at the Vatican to pay for it.”

    • #6
    • April 15, 2019 at 5:56 pm
    • 1 like
  7. Moderator

    Misthiocracy secretly (View Comment):

    SkipSul (View Comment):

    Misthiocracy secretly (View Comment):

    SkipSul: But France is wealthy, and will be able to rebuild if it has the will (and I would say it does).

    a) France’s public debt is 97% of GDP. Why should the French government borrow even more money they don’t have to rebuilt a church that French people no longer attend, and which isn’t even really a top attraction for tourists any more.

    b) What about the separation of church and state? Shouldn’t rebuilding be the archdiocese’s responsibility?

    Isn’t the church government property at this point though?

    According to Wikipedia the church and the land are legally the property of the state but the archdiocese is responsible for all expenses and is not taxpayer-subsidized.

    I will be very surprised if the post-Christian French electorate will be eager to pony up. I think the French electorate more likely to tell the archdiocese, “if you wanna keep that prime real estate then get your guy at the Vatican to pay for it.”

    And I can see Frank the Hippie saying “Dude, if we had that kind of money, we’d spend it to fight global warming!”

    • #7
    • April 15, 2019 at 6:06 pm
    • 10 likes
  8. Member

    I probably shoulda considered option #3, that a French billionaire might step up to the plate with reconstruction funds:

    https://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2019/apr/15/francois-henri-pinault-father-pledge-100-million-e/

    (His company’s name is Groupe Artémis, which seems ironic. A pagan corporation rebuilding a Catholic church.)

    • #8
    • April 15, 2019 at 6:38 pm
    • 6 likes
  9. Coolidge

    Destroy this temple, and I will rebuild it in 3 days….

    …or so the saying goes…

    • #9
    • April 15, 2019 at 6:45 pm
    • 6 likes
  10. Member

    Misthiocracy secretly (View Comment):

    SkipSul: But France is wealthy, and will be able to rebuild if it has the will (and I would say it does).

    a) France’s public debt is 97% of GDP. Why should the French government borrow even more money they don’t have to rebuild a church that French people no longer attend?

    b) What about the separation of church and state? Shouldn’t rebuilding be the archdiocese’s responsibility? At over 13 million tourist visits per year, they can start charging admission.

    And? The government doesn’t need to pay for it; the Faithful of France could step up to provide the funds. If there are enough left.

    Heck, they could step up to provide the labor too. I was just listening to a preacher on rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem. They had the goldsmiths and the alchemists out there moving the great big stones to set the wall in order; skilled craftsmen doing the most manual of labor. If you want it done, do it. Life’s too short to wait for someone else to do something you can do.

    • #10
    • April 15, 2019 at 7:20 pm
    • 7 likes
  11. Member

    9thDistrictNeighbor (View Comment):
    The Archbishop of Paris should get some brooms, sweep up and celebrate Easter Mass this Sunday. I would find that inspiring. If there is enough faith in France to celebrate Easter in the ruins, perhaps there would be the will to rebuild it as a church and not simply a ‘cultural landmark’ or museum.

    Yes and–you could expect many Parisians/French to show up out of respect for the fact that Notre Dame is such a cultural icon. Good.

    And maybe, during the Mass, the Easter Mass, a small flame of religiosity could be rekindled. This could be a good thing, if the Church handles it right.

    • #11
    • April 15, 2019 at 7:36 pm
    • 10 likes
  12. Member

    As you point out, the history of Cathedrals is that when Moslems take over, they loot Cathedrals and sometimes repurpose them into mosques. The Catholic Faith is dead in France, with no desire there to rebuild it. At current rates France will become Moslem in the not so distant future. Much more devastating than a fire would be to see Notre Dame turned into a mosque.

    Leave it a hulk. Concentrate on rebuilding the Faith, without which Cathedrals are empty monuments.

    • #12
    • April 16, 2019 at 4:26 am
    • 3 likes
  13. Member

    J Climacus (View Comment):

    As you point out, the history of Cathedrals is that when Moslems take over, they loot Cathedrals and sometimes repurpose them into mosques. The Catholic Faith is dead in France, with no desire there to rebuild it. At current rates France will become Moslem in the not so distant future. Much more devastating than a fire would be to see Notre Dame turned into a mosque.

    Leave it a hulk. Concentrate on rebuilding the Faith, without which Cathedrals are empty monuments.

    Apropos of nothing: During the French Revolution, Notre Dame was looted and repurposed as a temple of the Cult Of Reason.

    • #13
    • April 16, 2019 at 5:17 am
    • 4 likes
  14. Member

    I’m glad I saw it when I did. Extremely sad, but then in the current secular France it was an anachronism. It represented France while today the elites of France are trying to be European and denigrate nationalism – their own patrimony. How out of place a devoutly Catholic and nationalist man such as de Gaulle would be in France today. And so was Notre Dame. Now there are toads like Macron.

    • #14
    • April 16, 2019 at 6:07 am
    • 1 like
  15. Reagan

    It feels like a very sad day. Catholic or not, Christian or not (I’m neither), Notre Dame is one of the shining achievements of western civilization. I read that Macron was planning an international appeal for funds to restore it. That seems right to me. It is French patrimony, yes, but it is human patrimony as well. We should all wish to see it restored to its former glory.

    • #15
    • April 16, 2019 at 6:32 am
    • 3 likes
  16. Member

    SkipSul (View Comment):

    9thDistrictNeighbor (View Comment):

    The Archbishop of Paris should get some brooms, sweep up and celebrate Easter Mass this Sunday. I would find that inspiring. If there is enough faith in France to celebrate Easter in the ruins, perhaps there would be the will to rebuild it as a church and not simply a ‘cultural landmark’ or museum.

    Mass at St. Paul’s in Münster, Germany, after the war.

    Münster has quite the history of rebuilding. The siege of the Anabaptists in the 1500s left some scars too.

    That reminds me of the scene where the Christians who returned to the destroyed churches by ISIS in Syria and made a cross and put it back on top of the hollowed building. Then went inside and kissed the walls and the altar – that was astonishing.

    • #16
    • April 16, 2019 at 6:33 am
    • 3 likes
  17. Contributor

    SkipSul: Nothing we make with our own hands can last forever. Neglect, accidents, war, and deliberate destruction await for all things, despite our best efforts, and what is preserved somehow is only preserved for a time. Time will claim everything in the end; it always does. Doubtless, the Athenians hoped the Parthenon would last forever. Certainly, the builders of the Pyramids thought their temples to their dead pharaohs would stand for all eternity, as Percy Shelley wryly wrote in Ozymandias. Herod’s Temple in Jerusalem rivaled the Great Pyramid in its sheer scale and wonder too, and it too is lost. But we have no cause for despair (mourning, of course, is warranted and good, but not despair). We create anew, and we go on creating because this is what our own Creator has made us to do, so long as we have breath in us and life in our bones.

    Yes. Nothing lasts forever, and we are called to create anew. Such a tragic loss.

    • #17
    • April 16, 2019 at 7:27 am
    • 3 likes
  18. Member

    Emperor Constantine XI?

    Is he related to China’s President Xi?

    • #18
    • April 16, 2019 at 7:52 am
    • 1 like
  19. Member

    Hank Rhody, Meddling Cowpoke (View Comment):
    … the Faithful of France could step up to provide the funds. If there are enough left.

    That’s precisely my point. I see little evidence that there are enough faithful Catholics left in France for Notre-Dame to be rebuilt via spontaneous order.

    Hank Rhody, Meddling Cowpoke (View Comment):
    Life’s too short to wait for someone else to do something you can do.

    And yet, that appears to be precisely what is going to happen. The French people will depend on a billionaire to get things done.

    Not that there’s anything wrong with that, per se, but it’s certainly not a symbol of French faith. The church will be rebuilt because Paris in the 21st Century is a theme park, and Notre-Dame is a key attraction.

    • #19
    • April 16, 2019 at 8:00 am
    • 5 likes
  20. Member

    It’s a small mercy, but going by the first photos of the interior of the church it seems that the damage could have been a lot worse:

    Also, more French billionaires have pledged to contribute to the reconstruction:

    • #20
    • April 16, 2019 at 8:19 am
    • 3 likes