Culture

Notre-Dame fire: Losing a beautiful treasure

by Gabriel Ong // April 17, 2019, 2:10 am

Notre Dame cathedral stained glass

I was surfing the web when I came across the sad news. On the evening of 15 April 2019, the Notre-Dame tragically caught fire.

The raging fire destroyed the spire and oakwood roof of the 856-year-old cathedral, known as one of Paris’ greatest landmarks.

I played the awful video of the collapsing spire: The steeple seemed to groan under its own weight as the flames that engulfed the building licked it, before it finally broke apart and fell to the ground below.

It was just a horrible scene. Though the spire wasn’t as old as the rest of other parts of the cathedral — it was a 19th century recreation of the original 13th century spire — I felt so sorry at the destruction of something this precious and priceless.

Because I love buildings that are really old.

I really do. I have this strange habit whenever I travel: I like to touch things that old — really old. So when I’m allowed to, I love to put my hands on the thing just to feel how old it really is. 

With my hand on the cold rock, it makes me think about my place and position in the world. In moments like those, I see that I’m just a speck of dust in the ebb of eternity, who almost for a second, has touched another’s hand from a thousand years before.

So when a church this old suffers such damage, it really breaks my heart.

I guess I also feel this loss a bit more keenly because my fiancee Cheryl and I have recently been planning our honeymoon together. And in the process of doing so, we’ve been talking about the many beautiful places we’d love to visit.

While France wasn’t on the shortlist this time, we were keen to visit it at some point — who doesn’t want to see the Notre-Dame? So as we talked about the Notre-Dame fire, we were both sad for the loss as well as the realisation that the both of us would never quite get there in time to savour the old cathedral in all its glory.

On Instagram, Bobbie Houston of Hillsong Church delivered a message of solidarity and condolence. But she also had some particularly poignant words to share.

What is “eternal” cannot be lost to what is temporal. This world may pass, but God’s love will never spoil.

I can’t help but feel so “heart-pain”, so “sayang” at the history and culture that was lost to the flames. If I had it my way I’d preserve everything perfectly; I want the beautiful things to last forever. 

But we know that the treasures of our world never quite last the way we long for them to. They spoil. They get blown up. They catch fire. They get forgotten.

It makes me savour that which is fleeting, but also long for something that lasts forever — God and all that He is.

There are a number of things we can consider when a great church seems to fall apart.

The Notre-Dame is a cathedral — a physical church. Considering what has happened to Paris’ Lady, let us be reminded that though a church may come down in flames, we who are the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:27) will never die.

Believers are the Church — we are the building! 

“Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord.” (Ephesians 2:19-21)

The Church is the body of Christ, and Christ is the builder. Not only will He perfectly complete the things He has set out to do (Philippians 1:6), a person that is part of His body can never die (John 11:25-26).

Death was not the end of the story for Christ himself, who had the power to rise from the dead 3 days after his crucifixion.

“Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.” They replied, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?” But the temple he had spoken of was his body. After he was raised from the dead, his disciples recalled what he had said. Then they believed the scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken.” (John 2:19-21)

Our greatest spires may burn and fall to the ground this side of eternity, but what a church we will have when the body of Christ meets her head in heaven (Colossians 1:18). 

What a sight that would be. An eternal church that will never tarnish, burn and die.

About the author

Gabriel Ong

Gabriel isn't a hipster, but he loves his beard and coffee. In his spare time, he'd rather be on a mountain.