Notre Drame

Notre-Dame de Paris – 15 March 2019

The ability of a building to tug at the heartstrings came as a surprise to many as they watched Monday evening’s shocking scenes of Notre-Dame de Paris engulfed in flames.  The feeling was captured so perfectly on the front page of Tuesday’s Libération newspaper, with the most subtle play on words in the headline Notre Drame : Our Drama.

Notre Drame (low res)

GEOFFROY VAN DER HASSELT/AFP/Getty Images (2019) The steeple and spire engulfed in flames collapses as the roof of the Notre-Dame de Paris Cathedral burns on April 15, 2019 in Paris.

Listening to the live commentary on television, it was interesting to hear a number of Parisians comment that it was many years since they had visited Notre-Dame, although its simple presence provided them with reassuring comfort.  The priceless artworks within were seen by an astonishing 35,000 visitors every single day and yet for many locals they were hidden in plain sight, on a to-do list sometime in the future.  We are all guilty of taking for granted those treasures on our doorstep and while Notre-Dame may be a rare exception, it tends to be places of worship that are most easily overlooked whether locally or while on travels.  I am atypical with regard to visiting places of worship: having travelled the world singing with a choir in many of the most famous cathedrals (including Notre-Dame), I am always drawn to places of worship wherever I travel, knowing that they will be a calm, quiet and beautiful sanctuary, away from the bustle of everyday life.

It saddens me that cathedrals, churches and chapels are not more routinely visited and one of the principals behind my research is to open the eyes of visitors (and locals) to the fabulous beauty of Oxford’s chapels.  At the early planning stage, I was also keen to provide and archive facility for the stained glass windows, ensuring that even if completely destroyed, there was a high-resolution, high quality copy from which a facsimile could be created.  This was brought home to me by the scenes of Notre-Dame, as images of burnt-out windows devoid of their priceless stained glass began to appear.   Though reassured by the knowledge that all Her stained glass would be very well photographed indeed, photographs such as Martin’s, below, are rather haunting:

Notre Dame 02 lr

LUDOVIC MARIN/AFP/Getty Images (2019) Smoke and flames rise during a fire at the landmark Notre-Dame Cathedral in central Paris on April 15, 2019.

The following morning greeted the world with the news that the cathedral was largely intact and by some miracle, thanks to the protection provided by the vaulted ceiling, very few of the windows had been lost to the fire:

The whole episode made me wonder whether my time and efforts would be better put to use on an archiving project for Oxford’s stained glass, as had been my original plan.  However, in taking dozens of photographs of each window in an exposure bracketed batch, I am already archiving all the information it is possible to record.  It is those unedited photographs that would be requested by restorers, not the labour-intensive, final edited images that I produce.

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