Our Lady of Paris, the literal translation for Notre-Dame de Paris, has received an outpouring of public sympathy following a devastating fire last week. Having seen Notre-Dame in person, I can tell you it’s something at which to marvel.
The full financial cost of the fire is still being tallied, but I’m not sure you can put a price on something that is nearly irreplaceable.
Notre-Dame hasn’t made it over its 850-year history without a few bumps and bruises.
The first record of damage was the work of rioting Huguenots, who desecrated statues in 1548.
The French Revolution of the late 1700s, however, really took its toll on Notre-Dame.
During this time a great number of the church’s treasures were plundered, including the beheading of 28 statues. The great bells were melted down and the façade was damaged. The building was repurposed for some time as a warehouse which was used to store food.
Well-known French ruler Napoleon Bonaparte came to the rescue of Notre-Dame in 1801 by restoring its use to the Catholic Church. Restoration after centuries of disrepair have been happening off and on at the cathedral since it was returned to its intended use.
Mass industrialism and air pollution have only sped up the deterioration.
Who owns Notre-Dame?
Under a 1905 law on the separation of Church and State, it is agreed that the French government owns all churches built before 1905. This obviously includes Notre-Dame, on which construction was started in 1163.
The designated beneficiary of the property is the Catholic Church, which retains exclusive rights to practice its faith at Notre-Dame in perpetuity. The archdiocese of France is responsible for the costs of security, heating, cleaning and ensuring the cathedral stays open free to the public.
I think significant architecture and landmarks do hold places of importance in our society.
French billionaire businessmen are rushing to help fund its restoration while damage to this landmark building is still being assessed. But where were they when the building really needed it?
Media is reporting an electrical fault as the likely cause of the fire. I have been in many historic buildings and thought to myself that, despite their charm, they are often fire traps waiting to happen.
An ounce of prevention . . .
Were any sincere efforts in place to ensure Notre-Dame was operationally healthy prior to this event? If not, how can the citizens of France ensure they will have a sustainable landmark for years to come?
There are limited funds spent on maintaining landmarks like Notre-Dame every year, leaving them susceptible to ruin. Everybody wants to retain landmarks. However, the financial burden of taking care of them is another matter.
I would propose taking a portion of the donations flowing in to set aside a budget for annual repairs or future major capital improvements.
Ongoing capital funding is the only way to ensure something this catastrophic doesn’t happen again.