Notre-Dame represents so many places in Europe for the cultural similarities of this continent. If you like, this church is a contemporary witness of both French and European history. The cathedrals in Barcelona, Cologne and York are united by a cohesion based on an unconditional will to preserve the heritage of a continent. On April 15, 2019, this cohesion was put to a hard test when the previously incomprehensible became a reality.

A trial by fire for Europe

Unbelieving, the Parisians looked at the blazing flames in front of them. Those who were on the small inland island of Île de la Cité this Monday evening could not believe their eyes. With the looming loss of a landmark like Notre-Dame, it becomes clear how important a building can be for the identity of an entire nation.

According to the latest investigations, the fire that broke out in the church’s roof structure could have been discovered much earlier. Since this did not happen, the flames quickly made their way through large parts of the roof truss. Black smoke rose from the two towers of the cathedral. A symbol of cultural cohesion seemed to perish before the eyes of the world public. But the fire could be brought under control “in time”. The iconic structure of the church was preserved and after a short time of breathing a sigh of relief the calls for a quick reconstruction became louder and louder.

The future of Notre-Dame

President Emmanuel Macron responded to these calls with ambitious goals. The restoration work is to be completed in five years. The French National Assembly has already given the go-ahead for a law that will enable rapid reconstruction. Due to the still high risk of collapse, rapid progress with the clean-up work can only be achieved to a limited extent. However, the financing of this project should prove to be much easier than previously expected.

Within a few days, approximately 850 million euros in donations were pledged for reconstruction. In addition to many small donations from the population, entrepreneurs in particular have announced large sums. For example, the French billionaire family Arnault has promised to contribute 200 million euros to the reconstruction. The entrepreneurs Patrick Pouyanné and François Pinault each want to donate 100 million euros. The importance of Notre-Dame for the whole of Europe is also demonstrated by the fact that the numerous donors include private individuals and entrepreneurs from other European countries. The big question, however, is whether these announced donations will actually be paid. At present it is said that only about 80 million euros in donations have been received. The vast majority of these millions actually come from the population and not from the major donors. France’s Culture Minister Franck Riester stressed, however, that agreements are currently being made with the major donors.

Given the cultural importance of the 850-year-old building, it is to be hoped that the interest and initial solidarity will not suffer as a result of the long restoration period. A fire may cause a lot of external damage to a building, but it does not lose its importance. On the contrary.