Like a few other folks my age I suspect, David Macaulay’s book, Cathedral was my introduction to Middle Ages Gothic architecture. I can’t begin to guess how many hours I spent reliving the tale of the fine people of Chutreaux and the town’s monument to their faith. Everything was covered, from the conception and financing to the planning and design. The layout of the foundation, the machines used, and the construction of the walls, the arches, the vaults, the flying buttresses, the rose windows. It was all written with great imagination, humor, and of course the oh so fantastically detailed line drawings! Mr. Macaulay really knew how to light up my young synapses.
Macaulay later did a PBS series by the same name but, as is usually the case, the book is better than the movie.
You should still watch though
After casting about for supplementary material in those pre-Internet days (mostly the local library and the World Book Encyclopedia), I found out that Chutreaux didn’t actually exist. It turns out the town was loosely based on the northern French town of Amiens. But the Gothic architecture was all real and all over France for viewing. And the crown jewel of examples was to be found in the center of Paris at the Cathedral of Notre Dame.
Since those days, it has been a bucket list item for me to visit Paris and see Our Lady for myself.
Thus the news today of the massive fire at Notre Dame hit hard. It appears the spire and most of the roof are gone. As of now, the authorities say that the building is structurally intact but it’s still too early to know how much has been lost. I’m hoping for the best.
It doesn’t seem quite appropriate to mourn the (partial) loss of a mere building when there are plenty of examples of more real loss to contemplate. After all, nobody died, the roof will get rebuilt, the spire restored. Nevertheless, I can’t help but shed a tear or two that I will never see this particular building the way I imagined when I poured over Macaulay’s drawings as a kid.