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Julia Pavón, Spanish medievalist with a PhD in history, writer and university professor specializing in Early Medieval Navarre History at the University of Navarra.

The spiritual significance of Notre Dame

Wed, 17 Apr 2019 12:22:00 +0000 Published in La Razón

This morning, when I received a call from a journalist friend and she told me how she told her two daughters about the events of the evening before last in Paris, I felt deeply challenged as a Christian. When their mother told them how Notre-Dame had burned, the girls responded by literally and innocently translating "Our Lady", like primary school girls at the French Lycée. However, far from abandoning a topic that might seem to be too big for them, their mother insisted that the Lady refers to the Mother of God. Quickly the eldest of the girls has asked, "Has the Virgin been burned?"

The fire has also been unleashed allegorically in the media, rushed to give prominence to the shocking news, giving rise to columnists and other specialists, who in all subject of styles have published dozens and dozens of opinion columns, whose common denominator has been the lament for the loss of a cultural icon of all Catholics and French, according to Emmanuel Macron . But just like the column of smoke that attracted the eyes of the world on the capital of the Seine and rose to the sky burning the roof of one of the most significant Gothic temples of the Old Continent, one might think that such chronicles were like those rising flames. In spite of the symbolic transcendence of Notre-Dame, the news generated, many of them lawfully emanated by deep laments of patrimonial loss, were like smoke, which, when expanding freely, does not keep shape or defined volume due to the disunity of its molecular composition.

What common heritage are we so sad to lose? Or rather, why this clamor in the collective imagination of the West, and even worldwide? meeting Away from mass cultural tourism consumption, and looking back, there is no better material symbol of the foundations of Europe in history than a temple, either on the top of a mountain in its varied geography or in a thriving or small urban center. Places consecrated under the invocation of Christ, his mother, or beings chosen as models of life to overcome the obstacles in our earthly journey as believers: the saints. But what is the reason for it to be a temple?

Undoubtedly, the predominant culture of Western civilization was of a Christian nature, due to ecclesiastical influence and, therefore, with a profound theological content. Doctrine and canon law formed the backbone of a discursive space at the level of ideas that influenced a broad stratum of society, forming models of behavior for the entire arc of human trajectories. To be born, to live and to die were part of a complex Christian symbolic universe in which each being had to situate himself, identify himself and endow with transcendental content. None of these essential and tangible realities is what remained devoid of an allegorical and at the same time superior projection or representation. The gestures that surrounded them were more than a staging anchored in traditions, whether they had a pagan origin or were part of the pedagogy of the Church. Each vital event had to be codified in a set of symbolic images or rites that responded to a program with profound moral implications or to a purpose in society as a whole. And at the center of this ritual semantics, let us not forget, were these sacred spaces.

The bloody destruction of the fire of these last hours has not only burned a part of a temple, material heritage enjoyed by lovers of beauty, history or curious about past cultures, but it is the emblem of the conversion into ashes of an immaterial heritage drilled for centuries under the banner of all subject of ideologies and misunderstood "freedoms". As St. John Paul II recalled in his day, it would be unjust to forget this immaterial bequest , woven around the temples and shaped by the intellectual restlessness of great scholars, by the tension of leaders and anonymous people at the service of the church in order to reform it - the "papal revolution" of Philippe Nemo -, by the dream of recovering and teaching the Hellenic-Latin culture from the universities, and by striving to beautify the places of worship of God by developing a singular artistic creativity...., and a long etcetera of initiatives that have shaped the European roots and identity. An identity in which the "sweet" Lady, the mediatrix of Graces, the figure of a mother who protects and shelters, has had and still has a special role. A mother who burns inside with Love.