Notre-Dame de Paris has never before suffered anything quite as devastating as last week's fire, but the building has taken its lumps over many centuries.
Finished in 1345, the cathedral made it a few hundred years before the Huguenots in 1548. The Huguenots were French Protestants who weren't crazy about all that Catholic Roman Popery. To their eyes, all the art and statues screamed "idolatry," so they broke in and destroyed some pieces in the church.
Then in the 1600s, ol' Louis XIV, the Sun King himself, replaced the structure's stained glass with plain glass, and destroyed a pillar so carriages could fit through the doorway. But these initial brushes with disaster were mere flirtations. It was the French Revolutionaries who really courted destruction.
The Revolutionaries also hated the Catholic Church, so they rededicated Notre-Dame to their Cult of Reason, branding it a "Temple of Reason." (Side note: "The Hunchback of the Temple of Reason" is what you should all name your next Dungeons & Dragons campaigns.) Temples of Reason don't need many Catholic items, so they destroyed statues and melted down what they could for use in various wars. But also keep in mind the church did not look like it does now. Acid rain had worn down the stone masonry, and the gargoyles were little more than nubs. In addition to that deterioration, years of wind damage had left the spire teetering on the edge of collapse, so they just yanked it down.
By the time of the 19th century, the building was in dire straits. That's when Victor Hugo came along with The Hunchback Of Notre-Dame in 1831. After that, people said, "Hey we should rebuild this place because of Romanticism." The city tasked a young architect named Eugene Emmanuel Viollet-le-Duc to restore the building to its former glory.
Viollet-le-Duc, just 30 years old, began the restoration in 1844, and he started with replacing the spire the Revolutionaries tore down in the 18th century. He wanted to fulfill a vision of the cathedral medieval people wanted but couldn't attain because of the limitations of their day. His spire was the culmination of that vision, and it was made of wood and covered in lead. That was the spire that burned and fell last week.
While Notre-Dame has suffered perhaps the worst damage in its history, keep a few things in mind. First, the interior and relics are all mostly intact, including the original stained glass rose windows. And second, this is but the latest in a long string of mishaps. France will rebuild the church again. Now it's a chance for another young architect to leave a 21st-century impression of what medieval people thought the cathedral should look like. That said, they should probably eschew a booming animatronic Old Testament God shouting divine directives to anyone within earshot.
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