Notre-Dame in flames

Notre-Dame de Paris, one of France's most famous pieces of architecture built more than 800 years ago, has been severely damaged in a fire that broke out on Monday evening. An accident during renovation work is thought to have caused the fire. Commentators examine the symbolism.

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Neglected like Christendom itself

For news website Vasarnap the damaged cathedral is symbolic of the state of Catholicism in Europe:

“No one took care of the building, it was left to rot. The leaders of the Catholic Church pushed for restoration work last year, which then got off to a sluggish start amid huge difficulties. And now - probably due to the carelessness of a single individual - it has been almost completely destroyed. Looking at the smoke rising from roofless walls, we saw not just Notre-Dame. There, under the ruins, lies neglected, pitiful West-European Christendom. And do you know what the toppled church tower symbolised? The middle finger stretched out towards God. That has also ceased to exist now.”

Bild (DE) /

Our culture is burning up

With an eye to the burning cathedral Bild journalist Alexander von Schönburg call on readers to reflect:

“Europe's Christianity as a whole is losing its role as a guiding influence in our culture. In other words: Christianity is burning up. And we are looking on, helpless, some of us uncaring, thrill-seeking and perhaps even gloating. ... We deconstruct everything nowadays. Religion. Family. Morals. Sexuality. Genders. Everything. We throw everything that once applied out of the window. What remains is nihilism. ... Perhaps it's time to rethink our egomaniac, pleasure-seeking, consumption-driven, me-me-me culture. Perhaps the fire of Notre-Dame should be seen as a warning that we should focus once more on the basic coordinates of our culture.”

Evenimentul Zilei (RO) /

Was it only a tourist attraction that burned?

It's unclear what really burned, Evenimentul Zilei comments:

“What has Notre-Dame de Paris become - apart from a tourist attraction? The perfect motif for fridge magnets, the ideal background for a holiday photo, the queen of pseudo-intellectual selfies? ... In a time when our civilisation is demolishing its symbols and the Old Continent is castrating its images by cutting out all the crosses in its scenery, for many of our contemporaries what burned was nothing more than a tourist attraction. For many politicians, too, all that burned was a pretty sight. ... But for many others the burning of a cathedral in the days before Easter is ominous indeed.”

Le Figaro (FR) /

Nation has been struck to the heart

Historian Camille Pascal laments in Le Figaro:

“It's an amputation of the national memory and the French identity. For more than eight and a half centuries the cathedral has watched over France. There is not a single happy or sad event that was not heralded by its bells. Above and beyond the changes of various governments it is not going too far to say that what has gone up in flames is the heart of the nation, our very essence. Whether you've been French for centuries or since yesterday, and whatever your religion, Notre-Dame de Paris is France itself.”

De Volkskrant (NL) /

When certainties falter

De Volkskrant columnist Bert Wagendorp is shocked:

“It's strange to feel how a burning church can affect you. The feeling is probably comparable to how you feel when someone who was near you all your life dies. It makes certainties falter. ... I was so used to passing by whenever I'm in Paris, and that was quite often. I never entered, the queues were too long. For me it was a king of reassurance: it's still there. I'm still here, everything is secure for now. 'It's as if a piece of yourself had been burned away,' a friend wrote to me yesterday. And that's exactly what happened yesterday.”

Corriere della Sera (IT) /

Kiss of death or rebirth?

Sometimes catastrophes can work wonders, columnist Aldo Cazzullo writes in Corriere della Sera:

“The blaze can also be an opportunity for France. Perhaps the country can now regain the social cohesion put to the test by the economic crisis, the president's shakiness and the sterile and at times violent opposition. For decades the country that played a role in giving human rights to the world and the dream of democracy to Europe has been experiencing a malaise caused by more than just the drop in buying power and the collapse of the job market. France is having doubts about itself. The fire that destroyed Notre-Dame can be the kiss of death, but it can also be the sign of rebirth. Not only the pain but also the pride of those who gathered in the streets of the capital last night were proof of that.”

Dagens Nyheter (SE) /

Destruction brings strength for a new start

Dagens Nyheter has no doubt the cathedral will be rebuilt:

“Our modern civilisation is good at dealing with accidents. We can rebuild, restore, and refurbish with the greatest respect. ... Now positive forces from around the world will gather their resources to help with the reconstruction. Because that's how we tick when we're the best we can be. We grieve, rise up, look ahead, and start to build. For 700 years Notre-Dame has engendered beauty, comfort, admiration, devotion, world literature, and the presence of God. It's hard to believe when we are witness to images of flames, smoke and falling towers. But the time will come when the cathedral once again reawakens such feelings.”

Público (PT) /

European identity is not an illusion

The Europe-wide commiseration over the destruction of the cathedral proves something important, writes historian and former MEP Rui Tavares in Público:

“'There can be no European democracy because there is no European identity,' certain intellectuals who have converted to nationalism in recent years have repeated again and again. Solidarity between countries is humbug, they said, because it could only exist when people share a national history, culture and destiny. Now I challenge all those who have seen the pictures of Notre-Dame burning to say that they didn't perceive it as a loss to their own identity. ... We all have Notre-Dame to thank for a good piece of our European identity.”