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The disastrous Monday, 15 April, burning of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris leads to many questions and serious implications. Notre Dame de Paris (French for Our Lady of Paris), was built between 1163 and 1260. The cathedral was officially consecrated in 1345.
Most Famous Gothic Building in the World
No other building represents France quite like Notre Dame. It has been the most visited monument in France. Notre Dame is without a doubt the most famous Gothic building worldwide. The church of Notre Dame received almost 13 million visitors every year. Notre Dame has dominated the Paris skyline since the 1200s. The wood used for the framing of the cathedral consisted of 1,200 Oak trees, representing 21 hectares of forest.
Desecrated and Hijacked During the French Revolution
The last time the cathedral suffered major damage was during the French Revolution. During the anti-Christian fanaticism of the French Revolution, Notre Dame was turned into a “Temple of Reason” and dedicated to the atheistic “cult of reason”. Later when the “committee of public safety” was waging the reign of terror, Robespierre decreed a worship of a supreme being. The Notre Dame cathedral was re-dedicated to the “Cult of Supreme Being” with a famous prostitute being enthroned as the “goddess of reason” at the high altar. Later the French Revolutionaries converted the cathedral into a storage warehouse. During the French Revolution, 28 statues of Biblical kings located on the West Wall, were beheaded.
Restored by Napoleon
It was Napoleon Bonaparte who restored the cathedral to the Catholic Church in 1801. In 1804, Napoleon was crowned emperor at the cathedral. Pope Pius VII handed Napoleon the crown, which the young conqueror of Europe placed on his own head.
Victor Hugo’s Classic Book Led to Notre Dame’s Restoration
Notre Dame is named in the title of one of France’s literary masterpieces: Victor Hugo’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame, which is known to the French, simply as: Notre Dame de Paris. In 1831, French novelist, Victor Hugo, wrote Notre Dame de Paris, published in English as The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Hugo stated that he wrote this novel in part to bring attention to the value of Gothic architecture and as a protest to the demolishers who were destroying so much of France’s architectural heritage. Hugo’s effort to draw attention to the value of the cathedral and medieval architecture in general, led King Louis Philippe to order that it be restored in 1844.
The cathedral’s pipe organ dates back to the 18th century and is the largest in France. It has 5 keyboards, 109 stops and reportedly 7,374 pipes. In the 1990s the organ was restored at a cost of US$ 2 Million and took 40,000 hours to complete.
As people saw eight centuries of priceless history, artefacts, oil on canvass paintings and architectural masterpieces go up in flames, many wept openly on the streets. Watching such an embodiment of the permanence of their nation burn and its spire collapse was profoundly shocking to every French person.
Terrorism and Arson?
Many immediately speculated whether this could be an act of terrorism, or deliberate arson. The Paris prosecutor’s office said that it had opened an inquiry into the incident. However, president Macron’s government made an official statement, while the fire fighters were still battling to control the blaze that they had ruled out any possibility of it being deliberate arson or an act of terrorism! That seemed unprecedentedly premature to announce such an official verdict before any forensic investigation could have even been begun. Normally it takes many days, or even weeks, for fire brigade investigators to conclusively determine the cause of any fire.
Spate of Vandalism and Arson Attacks on French Churches
Suspicions have been raised by a spate of arson attacks and vandalism directed against Christian churches throughout France. Official police records in France identify 875 churches that were attacked, vandalised, or burned, in France, in the last year. In February, Notre Dame de Enfants in Nimes, was looted, vandalised and desecrated. Also in February, the altar at St. Alain Cathedral in Lavaure was set on fire while statues and crosses were smashed throughout the premises. Two people were arrested for that outrage. In another incident on 4 February, a statue of the Virgin Mary was found smashed on the ground at St. Nicholas Church in Houllise, Yevelines. Just days later the Church of Notre Dame de Dijon was vandalised and desecrated. “Their feet are swift to shed blood; destruction and misery are in their ways. And the way of peace they have not known. There is no fear of God before their eyes.” Romans 3:15-18
Arson Confirmed on the Second Largest Church in Paris
On 17 March 2019, Paris’ second largest church, St. Sulpice, burst into flames with fire damaging the doors and stained glass windows on the building’s exterior. The police reported that the fire was caused by arson and arrested two people.
Muslims Celebrate the Burning of Notre Dame
The Al Jazeera report, 16 April, mentioned that Notre Dame was a church where crusaders were blessed before they had left for the Holy Land. Reportedly thousands of Muslims have placed pictures of the burning cathedral with happy/laughing face emoji’s on social media. Coming within a week of the sentencing of an Islamic Jihadist attempting to blow up the Notre Dame Cathedral in 2016, the question is: Was the fire in Notre Dame deliberate arson?
Bombing Attempt Thwarted
On 4 September 2016 a car containing six canisters of gas was found parked near Notre Dame in Paris. This led to the arrest of two women and two men, all Muslims, said to be connected with ISIS. One of the women, Sarah Hervouet, 23 years old, was engaged to Adel Kermishe, who was one of the terrorists in the Normandy Church attack who was responsible for killing 85-year old priest, Jacques Hamel, by slitting his throat by the high altar. He also critically wounded an 86-year old man. The Normandy Church attack took place 26 July 2016 at Saint-Etienne-Du-Rouvary, Normandy.
A Symbol of Christian Civilisation
Notre Dame’s importance is more than a monumental architectural achievement. Notre Dame has stood for centuries as an icon of French identity. More than that, Notre Dame is seen as a monolithic achievement of Western Christian civilisation, testifying to the central role of Christianity in the development of Europe.
To the Glory of God
The construction of Notre Dame marked the emergence of Gothic architecture. Gothic architecture was designed to make any person entering into a cathedral feel overwhelmed by the greatness and majesty of Almighty God. The grandeur of any cathedral was to testify that it was all about God and not about man. Man should feel infantismal and have his eyes drawn ever upwards to the spire which points to Heaven and to the Cross which testifies to the Sovereign rule of our Lord Jesus Christ, King of kings and Lord of lords.
The cathedrals dominated the skylines of Europe for centuries, pointing to the central role of Christianity in providing the worldview that made Western civilisation and the preeminence of Europe in culture, art, music and the sciences, possible.
It was the basic structure of Christian thought that made the superstructure of European civilisation possible. It was Christianity that provided the morality, basic truth claims, understanding of the universe and the very meaning of language, which led to the freest, most productive and prosperous civilisations and economies in the history of the world.
Revolutionary Hatred of Christianity
It is for this reason that the French Revolutionaries targeted Notre Dame as it sought to eradicate the Christian heritage of France and Europe. When the Revolutionaries dethroned God and enthroned a prostitute as the “goddess of reason”, it ushered in over two decades of utter chaos, confusion and destructive warfare which engulfed all of Europe.
Recognising Roman Catholic Idolatry
However, the tragic destruction of much of the historic and cultural treasures of Notre Dame should also highlight another tragedy. While the world would see Notre Dame as a national treasure of France and a powerful symbol of Western civilisation and of historic Christianity, Evangelical Christians must note that Notre Dame is a place of Roman Catholic worship. It is specifically named after and dedicated to the Virgin Mary. Above the high altar a massive statue of the corpse of Jesus in the arms of Mary reminds us of the preeminence of Mariolatry, seeing Mary as a co-redemptorex.
Much of news media focused attention on saving what the custodians of the cathedral call the “crown of thorns”. Their cathedral boasts numerous fake relics such as what is said to be the crown of thorns worn by Christ and a piece of wood that was meant to be part of His Cross and a nail that pierced Christ on the Cross of Calvary. Of course there are numerous crowns of thorns venerated in Catholic churches - all claiming to be the true crown of thorns. There are many pieces of “the true Cross”, so-called, venerated in numerous catholic cathedrals and chapels. There are many nails that various catholic churches claim to be one of the three that pierced Christ on the Cross.
Papal Idolatry and Hypocritical Self-Contradictions
For 800 years, Roman Catholic priests have been lifting up a wafer and chalice and worshipping these as the physical body and Blood of Christ. It was at Notre Dame that pope Pius X beautified Joan of Arc, France’s most famous Catholic martyr, after a previous “infallible” pope had condemned her as a heretic!
The Gospel of Christ is the True Treasure of the Church
Protestants do not mourn the loss of idols, nor can we condone any acts of terrorism or arson. We mourn the absence of the Christ-centered Biblical Gospel within that great building.
Cathedrals Need Reformation
While we do mourn the loss of a powerful symbol of historic Christianity, we do not agree with the sacramental design of the cathedral and its elevation of the catholic mass. Protestants have never sought to destroy cathedrals, but rather to reform them. Hence, during the Reformation, altars were demolished and replaced with the Lord’s Table. The dividing barrier between clergy and laity was removed. The screen was taken down so that the laity could be participants during the worship service. Protestants brought pews into churches and made the public reading, teaching and preaching from the Word of God as the central part of every worship service, Instead of standing to listen to a liturgy in Latin, Protestants have involved the laity in congregational singing, responsive liturgical worship in their own language and most importantly, the preaching and teaching of God's Word in the local language.
A Tragedy to be Mourned
We mourn the damage and destruction to this great testament to the centrality of Christianity in Western civilisation. We believe that Protestant Reformers themselves would have mourned the loss of this great cathedral – a symbol of the Christianity they sought to Reform.
A Secular State
However, we also recognise that Notre Dame has been owned by the French state for many years. While the catholic church uses the cathedral for its services, it does not own the cathedral. The French government owns it and pay two-thirds of the funds needed for its upkeep and maintenance. The French see it as a symbol of French identity. Most Frenchmen see Notre Dame as a romanticised ideal of the glory of France, not the glory of God. Rather than a monument to the glory and transcendence of God, most French citizens now see it primarily as a material symbol of French nationalism. Paris is a radical symbol of that secularisation. Today, most in France see Notre Dame as a symbol of their patriotism, not of Theism.
Christian Civilisation Has Been Hijacked and Damaged
Notre Dame should remind us of our great Christian heritage which has been hijacked and undermined, even openly attacked by secularists and Islamists who hate Christianity and are seeking to hijack civilisation. “…If there is calamity in a city, will not the Lord have done it?” Amos 3:6
Return to the Bible to Rebuild Civilisation
We need to do more than rebuild the walls, we need to lay solid foundations to rebuild civilisation on the Bible, applying the Lordship of Christ to all areas of life. “Those from among you shall build the old waste places; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations and you shall be called the Repairer of the Breach, the Restorer of Streets to Dwell In.” Isaiah 58:12
Dr. Peter Hammond
P.O. Box 74 Newlands 7725
Cape Town South Africa