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While flames engulfed Notre Dame on the evening of April 15 and the world watched in despair, French president Emmanuel Macron told news cameras that the Paris cathedral was part of the history of all French people:
It is our history, our literature, our imagination, the place where we have lived our great moments … it is the epicentre of our life.
Macron - Mark - Ways - Stone - Notre
Macron hit the mark in more ways than one. Certainly, since its first stone was laid in 1163, Notre Dame has witnessed a great many of France's iconic moments. It was, after all, the church of the country's medieval kings long before the royal court moved out to Versailles in the 17th century.
In 1558, it witnessed the marriage of Mary Queen of Scots to the Dauphin, soon to be King François II. In 1804, Napoleon Bonaparte crowned himself emperor there. And, on August 26 1944, the towering frame of general Charles de Gaulle strode triumphantly down the aisle for a thanksgiving service on the liberation of Paris from Nazi occupation – having braved snipers on the way.
Notre - Dame - Country - Realm - Memory
Notre Dame is one of the country's "lieux de mémoire", a "realm of memory", to use historian Pierre Nora's term; a place where historical memory is embedded and commemorated.
All buildings have their "secret lives" – a topic that Edward Hollis explores in his brilliant book with that very title. One of the cathedral's secret lives was its part in the "culture war" that bitterly divided France after the Revolution of 1789. The Revolution was not only a frontal assault on hereditary privilege, seigneurialism and the monarchy – it also developed into an attack on the Catholic church, and Notre Dame was one of the most important sites of this conflict.
Autumn - Terror - Pace - Firebrands - Paris
In the autumn of 1793, as the Terror gathered pace, the firebrands who dominated Paris'...
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