Just over a month ago, the world watched in horror as fire engulfed Notre Dame Cathedral. The image of the great spire falling still gives me chills. Parisians gathered in the street, mourning for the lost, and praying that the flames might not entirely destroy the gem of Gothic Churches. By the grace of God and the firefighters’ heroism, Notre Dame still stood in the morning. We all breathed a sigh of relief when the French Government announced that the Church’s structure was intact and that they would rebuild.
So why then do we mourn? Unlike many tragedies that capture the attention of international audiences, not a single life was lost. Do we mourn for the loss of a beautiful and historic piece of art? Yes, but how does that account for the crushing sorrow we felt at the prospect of losing this church masterpiece?
The beauty made known in the Cathedral of Notre Dame is more than something pretty to rest your eye on for moment. Its beauty transcends.
In 1135, King Louis VI asked his friend and advisor, Abbot Suger, to oversee the renovations and expansion of the Church of Saint Denis. This Romanesque style church was the resting place of French kings.
Romanesque architecture was the prominent church design in Europe from Late Antiquity through the Early Middle Ages. To support the massive structures, architects used thick walls, heavy stone columns, rounded arches, curved vaults, and large towers. Although Romanesque churches are magnificent in their size, they are often dark due to narrow doors and few small windows.
Gothic architecture was born in the renovations and expansion of Saint Denis. Abbot Suger set out to transform the dreary monastery into a place that would give glory to God.
New technologies allowed the architects to utilize higher vaults, and pointed arches in the addition. Stained glass was invented to fill the tall windows which covered the walls in the new addition. Abbot Suger even decorated every surface with gold, silver, sapphires, and rubies.
Abbot Suger believed that that any light or jewel that reflected the light would draws worshipers into contemplation of the Divine light. The tall ceilings, pointed arches, and magnificent windows would direct the congregation’s eyes toward Heaven. Abbot Suger envisioned that the physical beauty of the Church aided in worshipping and giving glory to God.
Not long after the renovation of Saint Denis, builders broke ground Notre Dame in 1163. Over the next 180 years, six generations of workers, using the new Gothic style, would help craft one of the most magnificent buildings in the West.
Notre Dame is not important simply because of its historical significant, its revolutionary size, or its ornate decorations. It is significant because its physical beauty elevates the onlooker’s mind, soul, and heart to worship and contemplate God.
I invite you to go and find a beautiful church, chapel, or work of art, and allow its beauty to help you raise your eyes to Heaven and give glory to God.