Brunswick Review The Resilience Issue

The End of Resilience?

Notre-Dame’s capacity to endure may surprise everyone.

"It was a symbol not just of beauty but resilience. It feels like watching resilience burn down."

So tweeted a St. Louis-based journalist who, like millions of people around the world, watched live as fire destroyed the roof of the Cathédral Notre-Dame de Paris on the evening of April 15.

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Photograph: Pierre Suu/Getty Images

The cathedral took more than 200 years to construct—roughly 10 generations of workmen—from the 12th to 14th centuries. It stands on a small island in the middle of the Seine. At the time of its construction, most of the city of Paris fit on that island. As the town expanded over centuries to the Left Bank and the Right Bank and beyond, Notre-Dame remained its physical and spiritual center, towering and rooted.

An architectural masterpiece, it became a laboratory for some of the earliest music in the Western classical tradition. The French Revolution unfolded on its doorstep. Napoleon was crowned Emperor inside its walls. Victor Hugo’s great novel The Hunchback of Notre Dame not only uses the cathedral as its setting but turns it into a symbol for the endurance of civilization.

Despite the sense of doom spurred by those images of it aflame, the cathedral will endure. Its stone walls, front towers, famed flying buttresses, even its stained-glass rose windows, all survived. Much of the precious artwork was evacuated. French Premier Emmanuel Macron vows the structure will be restored in five years.

It will not be the same, but Notre-Dame still stands, resilient and inspiring, a symbol of hope for civilization.

Carlton Wilkinson is Managing Editor of the Brunswick Review.

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