The Bells Toll: Hope from Notre Dame Cathedral

Three people in hazmat suits rang the bells of Notre Dame Cathedral to salute the healthcare workers serving COVID patients.

It was April 15, 2020, a time for Parisians to hear an old friend– exactly one year after a fire nearly destroyed the cathedral.

The bells tolled throughout Paris at 8:00 PM—the hour residents normally saluted nurses, doctors and other professionals and volunteers.

That sound also reminded them of their heritage, of a foundational institution saved. A soothing silhouette against the sunset. It was only the second time the bells tolled since the flames, the other to honor the passing of former French president Jacques Chirac.

Other great French churches have endured fires, and completely rebuilt.

A few of the many are as stalwart for their communities, like Amiens Cathedral. It was almost lost while it being built—itself replacing the Romanesque Church that burnt just forty years early (1218). The superlative Chartres Cathedral has endured at least five fires, from accidental starts to wars and lightning strikes. Le Mans Cathedral endured fires in both 1134 and 1137. And the list goes on. The bells rang again.

The story plays out with churches of great preachers as well. The Metropolitan Temple that housed many of England’s greatest sermons under Charles Haddon Spurgeon burned twice, once from Nazi bombings–and was rebuilt. And Dwight L. Moody’s church was lost to the Chicago fire in 1871, and funds immediately raised to rebuild it.

Christian or secular, communities have expressed strong and tangible connections to key churches, sometimes long after the great sermons and weekly services have subsided.

France, a country espousing its unique secularism (Laïcité), still chose to rebuild Notre Dame. The world watched and wanted the same.

And there is the hue of hope—that while the fire raged a world watched and prayed.

Written by:

Jerry Pattengale, Author of dozens of books, including Inexplicable: How Christianity Spread to the Ends of the Earth—and co-author of the accompanying TBN docu-series. Also, the inaugural University Professor, Indiana Wesleyan University, and a founding scholar of the Museum of the Bible (DC).