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Notre Dame could prove revealing if we let it

Write to the Point


April 18, 2019

Before the ever turning news cycle moves on spotlight-fashion to the next attention-consuming item, some thoughts on the April 15 fire at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris.

First, despite early fears, a lot of the 850-year-old Gothic masterpiece of architectural, cultural and religious importance is intact and capable of being salvaged. The organ and most associated pipes are safe, along with much of the stained glass in the building, including the Rose Windows from the 13th century.

In fact, video posted on CNN Tuesday from inside the cathedral showed a lot of the interior walls containing intact carvings, paintings damaged by smoke but not fire and even pews. The building did not burn to the ground as our illustrious highly-informed know-it-all occupant of the White House declared it was on its way to doing in remarks on Monday.

The fact, that so much of the building is still standing and can be repaired is a testament to the skill of Parisian firefighters, who overcame formidable challenges in responding to the site to effect such a rescue. I think they knew what they were doing.

Thank God that didn’t include calling in air drops from water tankers.

Notre Dame will be restored, and already, not more than 24 hours after the blaze and with parts still smoldering, over $770 million has been pledged to that effort. More will come, and not just by Catholics around the world but from people of all religious denominations, and non-religious people as well, who appreciate the beauty, grandeur and social statement made for centuries by the building.

Cathedrals are more than just houses of worship. They are testaments to engineering that are inspired and dedicated to honoring and reflecting something larger than ourselves. They are statements of humility and adoration, attributes neglected and almost abandoned in today’s world.

Few non-secular buildings approach architecture on this scale, even if they should tower way above Notre Dame’s 300-foot tall edifice. That makes its restoration essential, not only to the faithful, but to everyone.

To that last part, I am thankful that our society has become more aware of the importance of historical preservation. You can bet that there is plenty of documentation of all kinds of the interior and exterior of Notre Dame, and that experts of all kinds will be called upon to study this documentation and reproduce it as exacting and intricately as its first creation.

I know that people often glaze over at the mention of historical preservation. I’ve seen it in others when I speak about my reporting on the efforts and business of Cheney’s Historical Preservation Commission. That’s too bad, because when we allow the past to be lost, it’s lost pretty much for good.

But when people are concerned about it, preserving history can achieve that rarely obtained idea of compromise — a word that has almost been relegated to the realm of obscenity. Several years ago, the forgotten treasure that was Cheney’s first high school was in the process of being purchased for conversion into student apartments.

But through compromise and cooperation between the city, school district and developers, enough of the historic nature of the Fisher Building was retained in such as way as to remind its current Eastern Washington University student occupants of what it once represented to this community.

That won’t be the case with Notre Dame, but it can be with many other buildings of historic nature — if we allow it to happen. That requires cooperation, and a careful, precise approach to restoration.

If anything, the fire at Notre Dame should remind us that sometimes, it’s the subtle, careful approach that works best in human relations. Not bombing with water tankers.

John McCallum can be reached at


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