Editor's Viewpoint: Whole world awaits church’s resurrection
As the fire at the Notre Dame cathedral in Paris has shown, it is not merely an ancient building or a mere lump of intricately carved stone, but a repository of history. It has been a mute witness to events which help to explain the Paris, and France, of modern times.
Built 850 years ago, it was the scene of the coronation of Napoleon in 1804, the beatification of Joan of Arc, looted by revolutionaries during the French Revolution and survived virtually unscathed from two World Wars. Its tenor bell rang out the liberation of Paris after the Second World War.
It is first and foremost a Catholic church, but it means much more to the people of the French capital. Their DNA and that of the building are inextricably linked and it is an internationally famous attraction, drawing an estimated 13m visitors annually.
That the fire should have occurred during Holy Week in a church which is home to some of the most precious relics of the Catholic faith adds a poignancy to what could have been a total disaster.
As in all such events, praise rightly has been heaped on the fire crews, who fought the fire and prevented it causing even greater damage to the building. We must never forget that in times of peril, those who work in the emergency services never fail to put their own lives on the frontline in the service of us all.
The symbolism of Notre Dame to the French people no doubt spurred President Emmanuel Macron to pledge that it would be rebuilt within five years to rival its lost glory. And the response from the business community, including individual billionaires, has been astonishing in both its generosity and speed.
Ancient buildings often undergo several reincarnations as a result of accidental damage or wars, but that does not diminish them. Instead it adds character and Notre Dame's reputation was further increased by Victor Hugo's Hunchback novel, which brought it to the attention of a wider international audience.
Now the world will await its resurrection from the ashes and over the coming weeks and months, much of the attention will be on what artefacts have survived the blaze and what have been lost.
France, and Paris in particular, has suffered greatly at the hands of terrorists in recent years and now a fire, already being seen as accidental, has damaged a much-loved icon of the capital. But as we know after 30 years of terrorism, the human spirit is indomitable.