3 days ago
In his now legendary TV series Civilisation, British art historian Kenneth Clark famously asked the following question on camera: “What is civilisation? I don’t know. I cannot yet describe it in abstract terms. But I think I know it when I see it.” Then the camera pans onto Notre Dame and he says: “Now I can see it.”
Our eyes are glued to the screen as we watch flames devour the Notre Dame – this is part atavistic fear from fire and part sorrow for a symbol of French – and through it, European – civilisation and culture.
After the fire has been put out and the causes established, we will have to decide how to use the elemental force of this fire. It is time to remember those Europeans who – having barely risen out of the ruins of the Roman Empire – began building majestic cathedrals under unimaginably poorer conditions and technical knowledge than we enjoy today. They didn’t even have any realistic hope that the next – or even third – generation will see the completed work.
But they did finish those cathedrals, despite plague, Tatar, Turk, Viking, Moor or Magyar invasions. These cathedrals are testament to a time when European people had faith, hope and determination and the will to build something much bigger than themselves.
So it is time for everyone to pitch in – including us, with ten, a thousand or hundred thousand forints. Hopefully international initiatives for the reconstruction will begin immediately. Because after an era of emptiness and mere preservation it is again time for an era of faith, hope and determination. An era of reconstruction, in every sense of the word.
Title image: Notre Dame burning (AFP/Francois Guillot)