Don’t get me wrong; the fire at Notre Dame Cathedral is a terrible event, the loss of such an historical and iconic building (a World Heritage Site to boot) leaving the world architecturally and culturally poorer. Yet the good news is that nobody died. Further still, if the desire and resources are there to rebuild, it can be done. England herself lost a Cathedral in 1666 to the Great Fire of London, the subsequent rebuild being of a completely different design becoming the masterpiece that is Christopher Wren’s St Paul’s. So all is not lost. Of course, whether or not the millions/billions needed to rebuild such a place is justifiable is a matter for debate. The case for can include the argument that buildings of great architecture, featuring spectacular windows, containing wonderful works of art and hosting high quality communal cultural events have the power to lift people above the mundane and expose them to a beauty that lifts the soul. In addition, and perhaps this should be remembered when talking about a cathedral, such places help to point people towards an awareness of the nature and presence of, and can encourage a seeking after, God.
Yet here’s the thing. Whilst such places may be helpful, ultimately they are not needed. Faith is not rooted in a place, if by that we mean a physical space (And in passing I might suggest there is not such place as The Holy Land, though I might be prepared to accept there are places that can be described as the Bible Lands). Physical space may have it’s place, but the community of faith matters more. The relationships and practices of that community are more important in knowing the love and ways of God, and such community and activity can really take place anywhere. Beyond that still, ultimately the Christian faith is rooted not even in the community of faith but in the person in whom that community puts it’s faith, Jesus Christ. Jesus himself prophesied to his disciples that the heart of their nation, the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem, would one day be utterly destroyed. Presumably they found this possibility disturbing. Yet history proved that the Christian movement that emerged could live entirely without it. The apostle Paul concluded that nothing could separate us from the love of God in Jesus Christ. This includes the loss of our most cherished church buildings. It’s sad if and when we lose them, but God has never been contained within them.
Steve Levett April 16th 2019