The grief caused by the near-destruction of Notre-Dame may seem puzzling for a country as resistant to religion as France. But the mass devotion the cathedral attracts is not a spiritual one. It is rooted in the building's location at the heart of the nation's intellectual life. Notre-Dame dominates the Latin Quarter - named after the language spoken by the scholars and students that flocked there in medieval times. Just down the river are the Louvre, a royal palace turned into the world's largest museum, and the grand building of the Institut de France, the country's foremost learned society.
It is the kind of thing that happens, we know, but it never seemed likely to happen in our time. It's not the kind of thing that never happens, just not the kind of thing that we expect to live through, much less watch in real time, on cable television. Perhaps because our tragic familiarity with terrorism has shaped our minds for dread, for imagining the deliberately unimaginable, what seems to be an accidental disaster of the classic historical kind becomes even harder for us to accept. If we had read about the Great Notre-Dame Fire of 1535, let's say, in which the roof burned up and the spire fell, though the towers remained intact, it would seem eventful, certainly, but hardly out of the normal run of what happens. Indeed, if it had happened in 1535, it would have been within the lifetime of Montaigne, the first essayist, who is said to have made the remark that, justice being what it is in the world, if someone accused him of having stolen the towers of Notre-Dame, he would flee the country rather than face trial--meaning that no accusation, however absurd, fails to carry its own momentum.
Notre-Dame, burning orange against the Parisian sky, was a sight both horrifying and spectacular; unbearable and mesmerising. The audible gasp as if from one single mighty breath when the lead spire slipped from sight reflected the global response to the catastrophe. It was seen on screens from China to the US. Built from the late 12th Century, Notre-Dame was a trailblazer in the development of the Gothic style and is one of its most recognisable examples. The uplifting brightness of the interior demonstrates the masons' aspiration to manipulate light and space as well as stone and mortar.
French booksellers are urging publishers of the novel The Hunchback of Notre-Dame to donate funds to help rebuild the burnt-out cathedral. Two bookstore owners are calling on publishers of Victor Hugo's iconic book to join the funding campaign. A fund launched to rebuild the fire-ravaged Gothic cathedral is expected to surpass €1bn ($1.1bn; £870m). More than €800m has already been raised since the monument was engulfed by flames on Monday evening. Now Amandine Ardouin and Antoine Bonnet, whose bookshops are based in Paris, are asking other sellers and publishers to do their part.
A catastrophic fire has engulfed the Notre-Dame cathedral in Paris, destroying its roof, toppling the spire and threatening the remaining structure of the building. The deputy mayor of Paris, Emmanuel Gregoire, said the cathedral had suffered "colossal damages", and the emergency services were trying to salvage the art and other priceless pieces stored in the cathedral. The wooden interior has been destroyed. But which other features in the 850-year-old Gothic structure make it stand out in a city of iconic buildings? The cathedral has three rose windows dating back to the 13th century, which are among its most famous features.