Wednesday, April 17, 2019


Parvis of the cathedral in 1699, via Wikimedia Commons.

As Twitter watched the cathedral burn, I was glued to it, teary-eyed sometimes, and found myself startled every so often by a message from some big head person offering condolences to the Roman Catholic church or to French Catholics in particular, generally from a conservative standpoint:
I'm like really? That's the heartbreak?

And sometimes really offensively, as in the case of young Ben Shapiro, who had to be spoken to sharply:

And Dinesh, of course, truly grotesque:

As if we didn't all know he's a renegade apostate Catholic who's abandoned all the sacraments and 500 years of family history from the time of St. Francis Xavier, who created all of Goa's D'Souzas and D'Cruzes and De Mellos in the 16th century, to be a fornicator and a liar and a member of something called the Calvary Chapel, an offshoot of Aimee Semple McPherson's Foursquare Gospel Church that predicted the Second Coming of Christ in 1981, and that D'Souza abandoned in 2010, opting to travel instead from campus to campus lecturing people about Christianity while not electing to go to services anywhere.

Jonah Goldberg reacts with magnificent stupidity to a really fascinating piece by E.J.Dickson in Rolling Stone:

Dickson's take relates to the fact that we're talking about two very different cathedrals, the wondrous thing that went up in the 12th and 13th century representing the apex of medieval technology, and the fairy tale whimsy overlaid on it by Viollet-le-Duc in the mid-19th century, with the wispily lovely spire. The architect's main dilemma is whether to restore the Second Empire equivalent of Disneyfication or the real Gothic thing those stonemasons meant 800 years ago, and the fire is what gives architects the chance to make the choice—it's a liberation in that sense, and it would be lovely if they'd dare to make the radical historically informed choice, though the result wouldn't be as pretty and might even seem a little too solid and squat (see illustration at top) from the outside (congregation doesn't need to open its eyes in astonishment until it gets indoors, in the stained-glass light and soar of the vaulting)..

To Jonah, of course the 21st-century Walt Disney Notre Dame with the whoosh of magical star thingies in the sunrise, looking like the false front of a rural Nevada casino, is the real thing and he can't begin to imagine what these fancy guys are talking about.

My own reaction—a lot like Ilhan Omar's—was focused on the greatness and antiquity of the building, and I wasn't thinking about religion at all, any more than I'd think about who was president when they built the New York Public Library at 5th and 42nd or the Guggenheim. I realize Gothic cathedrals are in fact pretty Catholic, though I'll point out that they made very good Anglican cathedrals too after the Reformation. In a world like northern France in the 12th century, though, where the huge majority of people who were Catholic could scarcely picture an alternative to being Catholic, and all the locally interesting religious issues were on the inside, it really didn't mean as much. We could go on forever about the theological underpinnings of the flying buttresses, but the skill of the stonemasons and the vastness of the conception are what stood out for me, like I don't think about the details of Lutheranism when I'm listening to a Bach organ fugue, which rises so far above its origins as far as I'm concerned—which transcends mere religion, I'm serious.

Speaking of music, Notre Dame also stands at the origin of the Western musical tradition: it was the place where musicians first thought of going beyond the monody of Gregorian chant to sing two different notes at once the school of Notre Dame polyphony, beginning almost exactly the same time as the cathedral itself began to be built, in 1160, and the first great European composers whose names we know, because they signed their work, Léonin and Pérotin.

That sudden appearance of harmonization, on which everything else from Guillaume de Machaut to Frank Zappa is founded, is to me as big a miracle as the Virgin Birth, plus it actually happened, in Paris.

Update: I think the earliest named European great composers were actually Peter Abelard and Hildegard of Bingen, famous for other reasons, composing chant a bit earlier in the century. Amazingly enough, the first great Chinese composer, Jiang Kui the White-Stone Daoist (1155-1221), the first ci poet to create his own qupai melodies, was another contemporary.

No comments:

Post a Comment