The Soul of France
By Agnes Poirier
Oneworld Publications, 2020
Do you remember where you were when the news about the dreadful fire at Notre-Dame de Paris broke? I do. I watched the television coverage in tears, following the breaking news on the ground via Twitter, contacting family and friends on social media to alert them, those of us who have visited this glorious cathedral in tears, consoling each other in whatever way possible.
This wonderful, wonderful book gives us so much: it tells the on-the-ground story of that fateful day and its aftermath, how it affected the residents of Paris, the residents of France and people from all around the world. How firefighters and many other people showed enormous yet quiet bravery, putting themselves at risk to ensure the safety of the surrounding areas, attempting to prevent the total destruction of this magnificent and utterly iconic cathedral renowned across the world, and to save as much of the precious contents as possible - the Blessed Sacrament was saved from the Tabernacle as the fire took hold and the great relics such as the Crown of Thorns taken to places of safety.
The aftermath and aftershock was immense; the scale and cost of restoration was deemed enormous but necessary and work began as soon as it was possible and safe to do so. But why has Notre-Dame de Paris had such a huge hold on the imaginations and hearts of so many people across the world, Catholics and non-Catholics alike? It features in art, history, architecture and so much popular culture, from books and movies to documentaries and even cartoons which use the Cathedral as a backdrop. Despite its relatively recent history of revolution and secularism, France has a long and venerable history as the Eldest Daughter of the Catholic Church, and many people were moved to tears and prayer as they gathered in horror to witness the fire.
Agnes Poirier gives us as close to a moment-by-moment account as possible, to bring us right into the middle of the intensity and sorrow of those closest to the life and work of the Cathedral and those who see and love the building every day as they go about their lives and work. She also gives us a wonderful account of the history and personalities connected to the Cathedral as she explores the historic and enduring importance of Notre-Dame to the people of Paris, France and the civilised world.
Essential reading for anyone who loves this remarkable Cathedral!
Many thanks to the publisher and NetGalley for giving me a digital copy of the book to read in return for my honest review.