It took 182 years to build and has stood for more than 800 years. It has hosted the crowning of English and French kings, survived a revolution and two world wars. But six days before Easter Sunday, the Notre-Dame cathedral's storied spire and roof were consumed by smoke and flames, and collapsed in an hour. The shock and grief of France were matched by heartfelt messages of loss and condolence from people and politicians around the world. That the damage to an iconic building could move so many around the globe is not so surprising on reflection. The Notre-Dame cathedral has been immortalised in books and films. It is an embodiment of human achievement: the faith that fuelled its initial construction over 200 years, the engineering skill to build its towering spaces and signature flying buttresses, the imagination that created those stained-glass rose windows.
The building possessed a secular grace and beauty beyond its religious purpose, and its enduring presence in the heart of Paris has been an anchor, providing generations of admirers with a sense of historicity. The fire that consumed parts of the cathedral is a powerful and painful reminder that the assumption of permanence is illusory. Even in this disposable age, ancient buildings are regarded with awe, appreciation and affection, in recognition of what they represent in terms of human endeavour. There is always a sense of loss when they are lost or destroyed.