Notre Dame Cathedral has stood for over 800 years. It survived the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars. It survived World Wars I and II. Monday night, the cathedral stood on the brink of destruction due to a raging inferno that has severely damaged the French Gothic structure, toppled the spire, and caved in the roof. A symbol of Christianity in France, across Europe, and around the world, Notre Dame narrowly survived Monday’s fire. But what of the Christian Faith that the cathedral symbolizes?
Beginning with the baptism of Clovis on Easter Day in 508, France became the first Christian nation. That played a major part in the history of France, Europe, and the world. As part of the Christian heritage of France, Notre Dame Cathedral was built beginning in 1160, and mostly completed by 1260. Generations of craftsman spent their entire working lives building Notre Dame — with many of them seeing their labor as an act of worship to God.
Henry VI of England had his coronation as king of France there in 1431. In 1804, the coronation of Napoleon I (Bonaparte) as emperor of France was held there. In fact, it was in 1801 that Napoleon signed an agreement with the Holy See allowing the Catholic Church to resume control of Notre Dame. He made provisions to ensure that needed repairs would be completed in time for his coronation. Notre Dame has been the site of Royal weddings dating back to the wedding of James V, king of Scotland and Madeleine of Valois in 1537.
Much of the repair work between 1801 and 1804 in preparation for Napoleon’s coronation was needed because of the damage done to the cathedral in the dark days of the French Revolution. During the barbarism of the revolution, Notre Dame — which had already seen damage at the hands of King Louis XIV — was viewed by the “enlightened” Jacobin revolutionaries as a symbol of the power of both Christianity and the monarchy, both of which were targets of the revolution. The cathedral was ravaged, with sculptures and statues destroyed and the roof stripped of much of its lead for the making of bullets to be used by the revolutionaries. Many minor bronze bells were smelted down to forge cannon, though the great bells somehow escaped that fate.
Perhaps worst of all, the building itself — constructed as a place of worship to God and for His glory — was repurposed into a “church” for the atheistic “Cult of Reason” in 1793 before schism within the ranks of the revolutionaries led to the cathedral becoming a “church” for the deist “Cult of the Supreme Being.” During this same time, the cathedral was used as a warehouse by the revolutionaries. This desecration was only the beginning of the indignities the cathedral would witness.
The vandalism and pillaging of the cathedral — combined with the religious and historical ignorance of the barbarian revolutionaries — led to 28 statues of Biblical kings being beheaded (since the revolutionaries mistook them for French Kings). All other statues, with the exception of one statue of the Virgin Mary, were destroyed. The statue of the Virgin Mary, for whom the cathedral was named (Notre-Dame de Paris is French for “Our Lady of Paris”) was perhaps only spared because the revolutionaries co-opted her as Marrianne, the Goddess of Liberty.
Once the French Revolution was finally over, Napoleon — as mentioned above — allowed Notre Dame to return to the control of the Catholic Church and begin the needed repairs. Even when Napoleon’s arrogance and avarice caused him to divorce himself from his Christian faith and wage war both across Europe and against religion, Notre Dame remained safe.
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SOURCE: The New American, C. Mitchell Shaw