By Barry Benepe
We have traveled to Paris every year for a month in the early autumn, staying on the west end of the Ile St. Louis adjacent to the Pont St. Louis leading to the Ile de la Cite and Notre Dame. We could look over at the eastern apse of Notre Dame with its elegant flying buttresses and hear the great bronze bells bombulating from the western towers. The cathedral never ceased to amaze me with its commanding presence.
The Gothic builders could take the heaviest building material used by man, extract it from the earth, transport it to the stone yard, carve it to within a few centimeters’ accuracy, and lay it in perfectly vertical vaults towering over the rest of the city, aspiring to reach Heaven. At the same time they would carve floral details that had all the weight of pastry decorations, their masons being aspiring bakers.
The great wonder of Gothic was the invention of flying buttresses. What a concept! To take this heavy, ponderous material and suspend it in the air like giant fingers pressing against the tall walls, in pairs, one over another. Imagine the trepidation in removing the timber forms supporting them. These fingers allowed the creation of a web of large, delicately laced windows filled with the multiple brilliant colors of stained glass that turned the morning sun into the glory of God.
The horror and mystery of the fire there in April brings to the fore all the works of man destroyed by its force, going back from the World Trade Center Towers to the bombings of London, Dresden, Bremen, Hamburg, Hiroshima and so many more. We build. We destroy. Sad, desperate tales.
I hope for the recovery of this sick, noble lady.