Belfast Telegraph

My Parisian couture, a rugby victory and a new Notre Dame

By Alf McCreary

One of the Chancellor's less-publicised benefits in this week's Budget was the provision of £20m to help with the refurbishment of the UK's cathedrals, for their First World War commemoration services.

Last weekend I had a rare opportunity to visit a sister cathedral in France, a country which was so much part of the Allied war efforts.

This was part of a memorable few days in Paris when Ireland thrillingly won the Six Nations Championship, for only the second time in 42 years.

Before I left for Belfast airport to join my male friends for our trip to the French capital, my wife said helpfully: "You are dressed as if you are going to a seminar of Presbyterian elders, rather than to one of the most fashionable cities in the world."

Accordingly I changed into my wine-coloured cords and jumper, and donned my off-purple jacket with a lilac handkerchief, plus a green scarf.

This exotic attire blinded my not-so fashion-conscious companions, but I am sure that it helped to inspire the Irish team and their supporters to a most exciting victory. It was great to be there.

Seriously, however, I also took the opportunity to do some research on Notre Dame, one of the world's most famous and most beautiful churches.

I always think that cathedrals are at their best when they are in action, namely when they are holding a service.

So it seemed appropriate to attend the noon Mass at Notre Dame on St Patrick's Day.

I have visited this cathedral many times, but until recently its splendours were dimmed.

Happily, however, the administrators have installed powerful new lighting which shows the building in all its glory.

If you are planning a holiday break in Paris I strongly recommend that you visit the 'new' Notre Dame.

One of the first things I noticed in the better-lit building was the beautifully-carved memorial to the Fallen, and the two poppy wreaths, one of which had been laid by the British Ambassador.

That made me wonder if any such wreaths have ever been laid in Roman Catholic churches in Ireland, and if not, why not?

Very many Irish Catholics died in both World Wars.

The March 17 service in Notre Dame made no mention of St Patrick, though in the main service a day earlier at the huge church in Montmartre he had been given his place on the eve of his feast day.

In Notre Dame there were about 150 people at the service, though many others filed through, in respectful silence.

This was probably an appropriate ratio for one of the most secular countries in the Western world, but it was also noticeable that a large proportion of those taking part in the service were young people.

My many Protestant evangelical critics can rest assured that I did not take part in the Communion because as a non-Roman Catholic I was not invited to do so.

Despite the impressive spectacle in such suitable surroundings, however, the service for me lacked a certain warmth.

There was no eye contact from the celebrant and preacher who delivered his sermon head down, though undoubtedly the service had real meaning for those who had taken Communion.

However, I was greatly impressed by the fact that worship is still so alive and well on a Christian site of such venerated antiquity.

Eat your heart out Richard Dawkins.

Belfast Telegraph

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