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Adlen Robinson: Watching Notre-Dame de Paris burn heartbreaking
Adlen Robinson

Seeing the images of the beautiful Notre-Dame Cathedral burning on April 15 was heartbreaking. Though I have not seen the great Cathedral in person, the images from the past, even in books and online, are stunning and majestic. I even hauled out an art history book of mine from college to read about the great cathedrals of the day and look at the pictures.

I so hope they re-build this iconic Cathedral, but it is hard to imagine it will ever be the same. Think about the effort that went into building that great structure. The community began building the Cathedral in 1163 under the reign of King Louis VII and it was not completed until 1345.

It is hard to imagine how important building a Cathedral was back then. And just how important it was to the community. Because these great churches took so long to finish, those who built them knew they would likely never live to see them finished, much less celebrate Mass in them. Of course, much of the backbreaking labor was done by the men in the village or city of the Cathedral, but there were also artists and craftsmen who contributed. The stained-glass windows often depicted scenes from the Bible and of course there were always beautiful statues, sculptures and carvings.

Notre-Dame was built during a time when more and more people were moving to urban areas. In the past, higher education (and education in general) was concentrated in monasteries and Abbey’s. With people moving to the cities, there were more and more schools and universities being built. People needed a place to worship — religion was the center of everything. The church back then symbolized everything — there was no separation of church and state, and in fact, the church had tremendous political power throughout history. Even though things were progressing with regards to education, it is important to remember that the average person could not read. The church, with its educated leaders, provided the “teachings” for the people. Separating the church from society was simply an unthinkable concept. From 1150 to 1250 is known as the Age of the Great Cathedrals.

Perhaps the most famous example of how much power the Catholic church had came in the 1530s. The King of England, Henry VIII wanted to divorce his wife, Catherine of Aragon, and marry Anne Boleyn. The Pope of the Catholic church said no. Henry was not one to give up and determined to get his way. Henry VIII read William Tyndale’s book, “Obedience of a Christian Man,” which had a subtitle of “How Christian Rulers Ought to Govern.” 

Tyndale was a reformer, but of course considered quite radical by the Catholic church. In a nutshell, Tyndale’s book said that since the Bible didn’t mention the Pope, Bishops or other things in the Catholic realm, the church should be run more like the state. Henry VIII agreed. He felt since his current wife could not give him an heir, he had the duty to find a wife who could. So, he just started his own church — the Church of England (1534) where he decreed divorce was allowed. That was not the end of things for sure.

The Protestant Reformation (1517 to 1618) is certainly a fascinating time in history and is worth revisiting it if you haven’t read about it in a while. Such colorful characters and so many important figures (good and bad) helped shape so many future denominations.

Notre-Dame de Paris is such a beautiful Cathedral — we all hope and pray it will be restored and enjoyed by future generations to come.


South Forsyth resident Adlen Robinson is author of “Home Matters: The Guide to Organizing Your Life and Home.” E-mail her at adlen@adlenshomematters.com.