On Wednesday’s episode of “The Andrew Klavan Show,” the bestselling author discusses how the burning of Notre Dame is a tragedy not just for France and Europe, but for all of Western Civilization. Transcript and video below.
Joan of Arc became a hero to the French in the 15th century during the Hundred Years War. A peasant girl who received heavenly voices and visions, she believed she had a mission to overthrow the English and put Charles VII on the throne. It is said she convinced Charles to place her at the head of his armies by revealing things to him in private only the angels could have told her. Her victories at Orleans and elsewhere gave Charles the crown he wanted. Captured by pro-English nobles and abandoned by the King, she was handed over to England and tried for witchcraft, heresy, and cross-dressing. She was convicted and burned at the stake; a death that understandably terrified her. It’s said that as she was dying, she cried out to nearby clergymen to lift up a crucifix "hold the cross high" she said, "so I can see it through the flames."
I was reminded of those words yesterday as I watched Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris burning. When Saint Joan died in 1431, she was only 19. But the cathedral had already been standing for nearly 170 years. It stood as a symbol of the nation, of its civilization, and of its God from the 13th century on. It has withstood every war and disaster that has fallen on the great city. But while its iconic towers remain and precious artwork and relics have been saved, the fire destroyed much of the interior.
The cause of the blaze is not yet known, and investigators say they have found no sign of arson and are treating it as an accident possibly connected to construction work being done at the site. But the strange silence that has fallen over the press, the sudden unwillingness to speculate, or even question authorities about their investigation and especially the self-imposed censorship of any mention of the plague of church arsons and desecration that has fallen on France during Lent this year, that silence, that censorship speaks more than words about what everyone is thinking and what everyone fears.
I couldn't watch the beautiful structure burn from within without sensing I was looking at a symbol of what has happened not just to France but to Europe and maybe to Western Civilization as a whole.
So, I’ve got to tell you about Notre Dame. I loved that cathedral. I must have been to that cathedral at least half a dozen times. Every time I go, I would climb up the towers the inside towers these weird 13th-century steps just a very claustrophobic, beautiful climb. You get to the top. It is one of the great views of Paris, you'll ever see in Paris, of course, one of the most beautiful cities in the world. ...
If I had to list one of my ten favorite scenes maybe one of my five favorite scenes the 1939 version of "The Hunchback of Notre Dame." If you've never seen it, the Victor Hugo classic turned to a movie. And of course, much changed for the screen, but it had Charles Laughton giving one of his greatest performances as the bell ringer Quasimodo in Notre Dame Cathedral. It has a wonderful scene where he's in love with the gypsy girl Esmeralda played by Maureen O'Hara when she must've been just a kid. She's so beautiful in it, and they decide they're going to hang her outside the cathedral for witchcraft. And poor Quasimodo this ugly little bent over man is watching from his perch in the Tower of Notre Dame, and he swings down on a rope and he sweeps her off the scaffold where they're going to hang her and he carries her back up into the cathedral where by law they were not allowed to arrest her. He holds up her body, she's fainted, he holds up her body and shouts "Sanctuary! Sanctuary!" and it's just one of the great scenes in all movies.
Anyway, I was just watching this, I think all of us felt the same way: we were all appalled to see this incredible monument of Western civilization in flames.