A celebrated architect weighs in on the deeper meaning of last year’s horrific fire.
When flames ripped through one of the world’s most famous Catholic churches in Paris, France, on April 15, 2019, the world — not just Catholics — mourned the damage done to one of Western civilization’s most iconic structures.
The fire’s destruction put the future of Notre-Dame Cathedral at risk, and the reaction from not just Catholics but people of faith across the globe and even non-believers in the wake of the damage done to one of the world’s most beautiful man-made structures renewed an ongoing debate about what is “beauty” and how the idea of beauty is linked to how people of faith express and experience that faith in their places of worship.
For retired Ottawa-based architect Donald MacDonald, the fire at the Notre-Dame de Paris Cathedral was a wakeup call to the increasing secularization of society that has had a profound impact on Catholic churches — in what they look like, how they function and the continuing decline in church attendance in western society.
“To me, the near destruction of the great cathedral built in Our Lady’s honor has now served as a Marian warning of our society’s almost total lack of faith,” MacDonald said during a discussion at St. Patrick Basilica in Ottawa, called “Catholic Architecture: Beauty where God’s glory dwells.”
“What is this fire? It is our loss of faith and the spirit of faith, a losing sight of the objectivity of faith and thus a loss of the knowledge of God,” he said.
“The great cathedrals of the West could have been built only by men of great faith and great humility who were profoundly happy to know that they were sons of God,” MacDonald said. “Today they are in danger of becoming museums without a soul. A cathedral no longer makes sense if the liturgy we celebrate there is not entirely meant to orient us toward God, toward the cross.”