For over 700 years Notre Dame has climbed toward heaven over Paris.

Today is as shocking as it is heartbreaking.

The prologue to the 1939 film said something about the dreams and hopes of humankind overcoming superstition and prejudice.

The preface to Victor Hugo’s novel goes like this:

NOTRE-DAME DE PARIS

Also known as:

THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME

By Victor Hugo

 

Translated by Isabel F. Hapgood

 

PREFACE.

A few years ago, while visiting or, rather, rummaging about Notre-Dame, the author of this book found, in an obscure nook of one of the towers, the following word, engraved by hand upon the wall:—

ANANKE.

These Greek capitals, black with age, and quite deeply graven in the stone, with I know not what signs peculiar to Gothic caligraphy imprinted upon their forms and upon their attitudes, as though with the purpose of revealing that it had been a hand of the Middle Ages which had inscribed them there, and especially the fatal and melancholy meaning contained in them, struck the author deeply.

He questioned himself; he sought to divine who could have been that soul in torment which had not been willing to quit this world without leaving this stigma of crime or unhappiness upon the brow of the ancient church.

Afterwards, the wall was whitewashed or scraped down, I know not which, and the inscription disappeared. For it is thus that people have been in the habit of proceeding with the marvellous churches of the Middle Ages for the last two hundred years. Mutilations come to them from every quarter, from within as well as from without. The priest whitewashes them, the archdeacon scrapes them down; then the populace arrives and demolishes them.

Thus, with the exception of the fragile memory which the author of this book here consecrates to it, there remains to-day nothing whatever of the mysterious word engraved within the gloomy tower of Notre-Dame,—nothing of the destiny which it so sadly summed up. The man who wrote that word upon the wall disappeared from the midst of the generations of man many centuries ago; the word, in its turn, has been effaced from the wall of the church; the church will, perhaps, itself soon disappear from the face of the earth.

It is upon this word that this book is founded.

March, 1831.

In the film Quasimodo saves Esmeralda from execution by claiming sanctuary in the cathedral, and once seeing her safe outside its walls peers down from the spire, murmuring to a gargoyle:

“Why was I not made of stone, like thee?”

Yes. Heartbreaking.

 

8 comments

  1. Incredibly sad but, hopefully, it will be restored and the fire will become just another part of its long history. I suspect Notre Dame, like any great building, has always been a work in progress. Now it will be an even bigger work in progress.

    • My wish, from the forests of Versailles and Fontainebleau will come beams that span another 800 years, and the artisans will carve their names in the great vault to call future generations to hear the eternal and beating heart of Paris.
      Sending you love, V

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