A Reflection on the Notre Dame Cathedral

My wife, Nichole, and I have been privileged to visit Notre Dame twice together. Our first visit was in February 1998, and just after we returned to Washington D.C., I opened a meeting of our church board, which I then chaired, with these reminiscences:

Eight days ago, Nichole and I were in the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, France. Its construction dates back to the 12th century. A very model of Gothic architecture, it is a museum of statues, gargoyles, stained glass windows, exquisitely carved screens, and paintings. It dominates the skyline squarely amidst a small island in the Seine.

We had not come to worship. We had entered the Cathedral as tourists. Thousands of others milled through the cavernous nave with us, gawking at the shape and soaring spaces of it all. In its attitude, the crowd that Sunday night was no different from the crowds we had encountered at the Louvre, the Champs Elysee, La Madeleine.

We took seats for a few moments, relieving our aching feet and simply drank in the history, the past. Darkness crept across the landscape outside that Paris Sunday evening, and the great stained glass windows in the cathedral dimmed and faded out. No sounds were heard but the shuffling of a thousand feet across dusty stones, the muffled voices of the curious. A gloomy greyness drifted into the cathedral and settled on everything. Candles flickered fitfully here and there. We were lost in the past.

And then we experienced a transformation. Worship attendants began straightening the altar area, seats were cordoned off; lights switched on, and the soft notes of the organ began to fill the place. The tourists began to drift out, and the worshippers took their places, the seats filled. Then a young woman, with tight black hair and a blue tunic took to the front and sang out, chant-like, a Psalm. We joined thousands of worshippers, responding in broken French.

Light by light, preparation by preparation, worshipper by worshipper, and note by note, that historic stone pile along the silent Seine had been transformed from a monument to the past to a living body of believers — vibrant with hope, with possibility, with shared purpose. We were not all Catholics, perhaps we were not all Christians, but, in our own way, we were all worshippers. I was struck by the transformation we witnessed. It had come so unexpectedly, so quietly, but so suddenly and dramatically.”

In his book, The Cube and the Cathedral, George Weigel asserts, “European high culture is largely Christophobic, and Europeans themselves describe their cultures and societies as post-Christian” (p. 27). That may be harsh, but the decimation of church attendance across Europe (an affliction now spreading rapidly in our own country), is one of many evidences that Weigel is not wrong. European pockets of religiosity and commitment may be the exceptions proving the rule of an increasingly dogmatic secular society. In the 21st century, the large cathedrals scattered across Europe are, like Notre Dame, looming husks of another time, no longer sought out primarily as sanctuaries where we meet God, but instead as historic monuments to the achievements of Man. The severe damage to Notre Dame is lamented not chiefly in religious, but instead in historical and cultural, terms.

In such a time, when they are largely emptied of believers, I would argue these edifices are needed more than ever. They bear silent and dramatic witness to the faith of another era; a faith that may someday beckon a future generation to go beyond their historic, ancient walls to the God who “does not dwell in temples made with hands,” as the first Christian martyr, Stephen, proclaimed (Acts 7:48).

On my office walls are large photographs of a cathedral in construction and completed — Washington National Cathedral. I am always drawn to cathedrals and churches, as my family will attest. We’ve ducked into many an ancient doorway while passing through cities and towns on vacation. And on my wall is a favorite quote from T.S. Eliot, which has new urgency now: “The Church must be forever building, for it is forever decaying within and attacked from without” (“The Rock”). This morning, Nichole and I sent a donation to the Friends of Notre Dame so that we could play a very small part in the restoration of this beautiful edifice and the witness it bears. It is so good to see that hundreds of millions already have been pledged, for rebuilding Notre Dame will surely be an expensive, arduous, and long-lasting project.

Your own place of worship, just like the local Adventist church we call home, needs resources, too. Without that support, the decline may not be as dramatic as what Notre Dame suffered yesterday, but it will be, in the long run, just as severe. Even more than our money, our places of worship need us, and we them.

Closing now with a few more lines from T.S. Eliot, again from “The Rock”:

In the vacant places

We will build with new bricks

There are hands and machines

And clay for new brick

And lime for new mortar

Where the bricks are fallen

We will build with new stone

Where the beams are rotten

We will build with new timbers

Where the word is unspoken

We will build with new speech

There is work together

A Church for all

And a job for each

Every [person] to [their] work.

Jeffrey S. Bromme, Esq. is the Executive Vice President and Chief Legal Officer for the AdventHealth.

Image Credit: Flickr.com / Olivier Mabelly

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/9553

Jeffrey, thank you for your positive, grace-filled perspective. You have helped to excise a dark little corner of cynicism in my soul.


It was with sadness and devastating loss, that I heard the news of the Notre Dame disastrous incandescence.

For more than ten years I owned a home a mere ten minutes walk from this iconic masterpiece I have taken countless house guests to this architectural gem.

I have even climbed the towers several times, for an incredible view of Paris ( better than the view form Eiffel Tower ) and seen the gargoyles which line the upper parapets. Also viewed the enormous bell.

But it is the rose windows ( wider than the length of a tour bus, as one tour guide described them. ) that are pinnacles of perfection. Modern glass cannot duplicate the kaleidoscope of colors in these windows.

Amaxing that this monumental,structure was started more than eight hundred years ago, took nearly two centuries to build — but that the many successive architects, never changed the original plan.

When viewed from inside and out, all you see is pillars of stone, but fifty four acres of trees were cut to construct the hidden interior, behind the marble / granite facades.

I have attended midnight mass there on Christmas Eve, — not for the sacrament itself , — but to hear the incredible Christmas music…

I also have attended masses there — usually a very full congregation — not for the service itself , but to hear the thunderous magnificent organ,

This is a loss not just for Catholicism, not for Christianity as a whole, but for western civiliztion , for which it was the epitome


Amen to this eloquent meditation. Thank you, Jeff.

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twice was also my experience…once as a child, and then again as a teen…ironically, i’ve had it in the back of my mind to visit notre dame a third time…too bad i’ve kept putting that visit off…

notre dame’s famous oak tree forest, with each of 13,000 trees estimated at 300 or 400 yrs old is, in my mind, the secret behind the fabulous acoustics that this iconic cathedral was so famous for…i believe the firmly held view that the music performed at this church produced an effect that simply wasn’t possible anywhere else on earth…

it’s relatively well-known that the maple trees used in the stradivari violins, made in the 17th and 18th centuries, were physically different than what can be found in the same forests now…that is, growth rings then show less variation in density between periods of rapid and slower growth, possibly due to a so-called maunder minimum associated with what is believed to have been something of a mini ice age in europe from the mid-16th to part of the 19th century - certainly during the time of stradivari’s output…there is also the documented fact that the cellulose/hemicellulose ratios in stradivari’s wood were significantly higher than now, causing a much lower moisture content, and there appears to have been a much greater absorption of various minerals, like copper, aluminum and zinc…while these particular differences may have been artificially induced through secret luthier methods, including chemical treatment that isn’t documented anywhere else, it is also possible that they are endemic to the wood of that time…the point is that the resulting sound transmitting properties of this very old wood appears to be impossible to replicate…

if any of this is part of the story behind the even more ancient wood that framed notre dame for some 800 yrs, the world is in for a permanent, significant, loss…of course, rebuilding this cathedral should take place for many reasons, and the three french families who have now pledged a half billion dollars should be thanked, and possibly knighted…but let’s understand that, musically, what has been for centuries can almost certainly never be again…


Thanatopsis by W. C Bryant is appropriate for such a time as this.Also the Psalms Of David.

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I won’t be surprised if this weekend some SDA pulpits will preach that God must be behind that fire. After all, it is a RCC Church…, so… :roll_eyes: Even some SOP texts may be used to substantiate the idea… :innocent:


Jeremy, the luthiers should try the wood from the (as the locals call it) Tichy Claire in Belgium. During WWII my Dad cut thousands of trees in that place but the trees regrew and they say that now an aerial view shows the claire because the green color is a little lighter than the old trees around it. I know, it’s younger wood, but it has the “Tichy Touch,” which may actually be the best wood ever. Stradivarius would not think twice… :laughing:

The wood my Dad cut was actually sold to the Germans - for a lot of money - and the idiots took it to the beaches to build a barrier in the water to prevent the enemies’ from disembarking… Go figure… My Dad had no problem with the idea, since the Germans paid everything cash and immediately. He had three huge trucks to pull the trees from the forest before cutting them at a certain length and loading them on the German trucks.

My Dad told me that his employees would sabotage the German trucks as they stayed in there over night, so that the trucks would break as soon as they ran a few kilometers with the load… My Dad, of course…, didn’t know anything about it… sure… :roll_eyes: :roll_eyes: … LOL


GeorgeTichy wrote:
"I won’t be surprised if this weekend some SDA pulpits will preach that God must be behind that fire. After all, it is a RCC Church…, so… :innocent: Even some SOP texts may be used to substantiate the idea…."

George, most of the time I find your comments wise and helpful to me. This one I am sorry to say was not. I am sad that our responses with and about our fellow believers has reached the level where we expect the worst and react automatically to old stereotypes and our worst fears.

I’m also sad that I have often done the very same thing in my discourse and reactions with those I differ with. I am learning, slowly, that it is better to anticipate and hope for the best in others and to rejoice in the Lord when it happens.

I wish we were neighbors, I’d offer you a hug.

Your friend,



Sam, you must be kidding, right?

How many times we have seen exactly this happening, when a tragedy occurred, many sermons that followed suggested that it’s been God’s hand punishing the infidels?

When 911 happened, and the fire could not be extinguished for many days (weeks?) some people preached using EGW’s texts about a vision in which she saw a fire that could not be extinguished, and said that this was her vision on 911.

I don’t know if she had some visions about tsunamis, but people did the same thing with those tragedies as well.

Therefore, seriously, what I said may happen this very Saturday in many churches around the world. Stay tuned!


George, you are probably and sadly right when you predict the worst reaction by some in our church to this Notre Dame tragedy. But, ask yourself how do we define ourselves? Have we gotten to that state where our responses are “baked in” because we are reacting to our ideology? You used the words “some” and “many” several times…why not expect and hope for something better for the rest of us?

My point is that our adversaries have won when we anticipate and expect the worst of who we are. Adversaries find their way into movies and television shows. We read about them in books, and goodness, we find adversaries slathered all through the pages of the Bible. Think of Jesus and the Pharisees, Saul – who became known as Paul - and Christians, the Israelites versus all those other “ites”, Mordecai versus Haman, and the woman caught in adultery against the finger-pointing, accusation-throwing, circle of folks. Adversaries come with this territory we call life. Yet, Jesus stands present. What are we to do with these people who frustrate and hurt us. Our Savior, like a well-prepared physician, holds a bag of instruments available for our aid when dealing with adversaries. Let’s call that bag “love,” a satchel of sorts for ways (instruments) that help us love our adversaries. Love expects and hopes for the best…


Sam, I am not “expecting” anything. I just made a comment on what may probably happen in some places, based on what I saw happening in the past. I hope it doesn’t happen, but…, what are actually the odds? :thinking:


What adversaries, Sam? This is part of the problem. We have this adversarial idea baked into our thinking. Is the RCC amongst our adversaries? We aren’t even a blip on their radar screen. Are other Protestant churches? We are the ones who have traditionally cast them as apostates, not the other way around.

George’s reaction is understandable with our theological tradition of practically demonizing other Christian groups and faith traditions. But, I do get your point, many within Adventism have grown beyond such a black and white, tribal mentality. I expect to see many more among us in sympathy over what has happened at Notre Dame. It’s a tragedy.




If one of any religion can not view what happened at ND as a tragedy, then that person has lost the ability to have " empathy in their shoes". ND was not so much a symbol as it was a standing form of art and central to good Christians all around the world. A tragedy is not a strong enough adjective.


Thank-you for this reflection. This horrible tragedy could have been worse but the damage to an irreplaceable Christian monument has been done. It has been heart-warming to see so much money raised to repair it.

A little over 2 years ago, my husband and I had the privilege to visit Notre Dame. It was the most amazing building of worship that I have ever seen or have been in. The sheer enormity of the interior is hard to take in, both in depth and in breadth.

There was a religious service going on when we visited and the sound of the tenor’s voice floated through the cavernous space. The beauty of the rich light coming from the massive stained glass windows was enthralling along with the intricate stone work and wood carvings.

Inside Notre Dame’s massive walls many events have taken place…weddings, funerals, state functions, etc. I was reminded this week that Napoleon was crowned here as were the Kings and Queens of France. So much history is contained within Notre Dame for the people of France and of the whole world as well.

The fire at Notre Dame, is, once again, a reminder that we must appreciate fully that which is ephemeral.


The odds are good that even if it is not directly communicated from the pulpit…that there will be those members that say it. Why do I say this? Well…for the same reason that the new local SDA pastor has been called a “Jesuit” because he joined the local monthly meeting of community churches. :persevere::face_with_raised_eyebrow:

I would be thrilled to have this type of mentality die with Adventism- but I don’t know if it is entirely possible given that too many members are so eager to see “Jesuits” hiding around any and every corner!


A beautiful reflective note.

The problem George, if we want to bring church or any other political views into this tragedy is that we can draw conclusions about people on the left and right, politically/philosophically and both are probably correct. It is incontrovertibly true that someone who leans right politically is more psychologically likely to be more concerned or “conservative” when it comes to matters of cultural values and tradition.

As true as your observations may be within SDAism, equally, it has been reported that some on the left in particular, including many feminists, anarchists, immigrants from colonial France, some atheists et al were cheering the burning.

Personally, I think some of those in attendance were subconsciously mourning the fire as an emblematic loss of their own culture and the muddling thrashing decline of Western cultural values. They may not wish to return to Catholicism per se but they only had to look around to see who cared and who did not.


Sorry, but I heard of the fire, I also quickly felt concern that there would be some people who would say that God caused or allowed this fire as some sort of lesson or punishment. How sad that would be.


I agree Peter! Did God use fire to destroy Redwood Academy and other SDA institutions. Those same people that say God had a hand in ND then they better be prepared to blame the good people and students at Redwood and Paradise. George is right though about sermons around the world will say somehow God was punishing the Catholics.


I told my husband yesterday…would they say the same thing if the GC building burned down? It is small-mindedness and mean-spirited if anyone says that it was “God” who let Notre Dame burn.