On Monday, daily political fights have taken a backseat as we have all been watching, heartbroken, at the sight of Paris's historic Notre Dame Cathedral on fire.
As of this writing, a portion of the roof has collapsed and its historic spire has toppled over, and firefighters are working to see if they can contain the damage, or at least rescue some of the art.
It's worth stopping for a moment to reflect on what it is that immediately caused people, no matter their political leanings or religious background, to react with horror and raw emotion as the images come in. After all, as of now, there have been no reports of deaths or injuries.
Of course, people seeing images were reacting to something different — the destruction of something of timeless beauty that speaks to human achievement and continuity. Construction on the building started in the 12th century, and the building survived the desecration of the French Revolution and the Nazi occupation during World War II. To this day it remains a central part of any itinerary in Paris, even to travelers who are only passing through for a day.
As Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry, a Paris-based author and fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center put it: "This is simply a disaster. Countless priceless artworks and artifacts. The roof structure, original, all wood, whose construction is still not fully understood by modern scientists, is itself a priceless monument. I am heartbroken."
This is simply a disaster. Countless priceless artworks and artifacts. The roof structure, original, all wood, whose construction is still not fully understood by modern scientists, is itself a priceless monument. I am heartbroken.— PEG (@pegobry) April 15, 2019
Notre Dame is both a work of art, a place that houses artwork, and an inspiration for art and literature, none more famous than Victor Hugo's The Hunchback of Notre Dame. "Notre Dame de Paris, in particular, is a curious specimen of this variety. Every surface, every stone of this venerable pile, is a page of the history not only of the country, but of science and of art," Hugo wrote, as National Review's Rich Lowry reminds us.
Right now, the ultimate fate of the cathedral is unknown. Let us pray that firefighters are able to find a way to salvage as much of the structure as possible, so that it can rise once again.
In a time of short attention spans and nonstop news cycles, we need more reminders of history and things of beauty that survive the test of time.