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Laborers cut and hauled stone to the site, mixed mortar, forged iron, and carved wood.The very island on which Notre Dame sits had to be enlarged to make room for the vast new church by workers who drove piles into the river bed and moved mounds of rubble.
Ordinary Parisians went to the cathedral to hear Mass, to light candles during solitary prayer, and to bear witness to baptisms, marriages, and funerals.
In a largely preliterate age, Notre Dame’s sculptures and paintings were sources of religious education. Reims Cathedral in the north of France caught fire during the First World War and the Frauenkirche in Dresden was destroyed during the Allied bombing of Dresden in 1945.
But whatever is built will be a symbol of resilience.
And it will be proof that now, just as in 1163, it is people who make a cathedral.
Darkness crept across the landscape outside that Paris Sunday evening, and the great stained glass windows in the cathedral dimmed and faded out. 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.
No sounds were heard but the shuffling of a thousand feet across dusty stones, the muffled voices of the curious. The tourists began to drift out, and the worshippers took their places, the seats filled.
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. A very model of Gothic architecture, it is a museum of statues, gargoyles, stained glass windows, exquisitely carved screens, and paintings. Thousands of others milled through the cavernous nave with us, gawking at the shape and soaring spaces of it all.
Notre Dame was instead the cathedral of ordinary Parisians.
Since the Middle Ages, it’s been the backdrop against which the city’s inhabitants have lived their lives.