LIKE many girls her age, my 13-year-old daughter, Lizzie, spends most of her time at school, dancing, doing homework or chatting to her friends. Until this week, there hasn’t been much evidence of an abiding interest in architectural, cultural or ecclesiastical matters.
I was surprised then to see her look up from her phone in alarm as I ran in from the kitchen to switch on the television, shouting, “Notre-Dame’s on fire”. Lizzie is blessed with a calm and unperturbable nature and not easily given to histrionics.
The Yorkshire Post says: Notre-Dame will rise from ashes thanks to lessons learned at York Minster “I love that church,” she whispered, her eyes filling with tears. “I don’t want it to burn down.”
As we all watched in horror as flames ripped through the heart of the 850-year-old cathedral, she covered her face. Afterwards, when it became evident that the iconic twin belfry towers had been saved – as it turns out, with half an hour to spare – I asked her why the sight of a building on fire in another country, far from home, had moved her so much.
She told me that she loved it because she loves Paris, and she finds Notre-Dame a calm and reassuring place. She has visited twice, five years apart. For Lizzie, the touristy photographs we took of her squinting in front of those imperilled belfries have become markers in her life.
This is also the reason why the animated Disney version of The Hunchback of Notre-Dame is one of her perennial favourites; this fantastical structure of flying buttresses and gargoyles captures the imagination.
She says she hopes to go again in another five years. I told her that she will be 18 by then and may be ready to discover Paris on her own, as I did more years ago than I care to calculate.
I’m sharing all this with you because if you’re like me, you will have been trying to show your children interesting buildings and places since they were old enough to sit up in a pushchair. Indeed, you might be planning an excursion or two this very Easter weekend.
If you’re also like me, you will often wonder why you bother. Most of the time my kids look as if they would rather be anywhere else in the world than looking at a tapestry – preferably lying on their beds at home watching YouTube.
However, as Lizzie’s surprising reaction proves, the Notre-Dame fire proves how important it is to teach our children about religious, architectural and cultural treasures, and as far as is affordable, show them at first-hand if the opportunity arises.
This does not have to involve a trip to Paris – although, I stress this particular jaunt was done on a very tight budget – there are free museums in Yorkshire, and even just a walk through the streets of some of our historic towns and cities can be an education in itself.
Like probably everybody else in the region, I’ve been reminded this week of a devastating cathedral fire much closer to home when York Minster was struck by a bolt of lightning in 1984.
As a teenager myself, I remember the horror of thinking that an ancient building which had stood for centuries could be potentially destroyed in a matter of minutes. It was a stark reminder of the fragility of life and how vulnerable we all are.
Four years later, the Minster had been restored to its former glory at a cost of £2.25m. I remember thinking back then that given the right purpose, people can be capable of anything they put their mind to.
I told my children this when we took a trip to York last year and stood and looked up at the towering majesty of our very own Gothic cathedral standing proud above the city.
These are the kind of connections, immeasurable by workaday standards, which bind us all together, whatever country we happen to live in.
As at York Minster, the devout have seen all kinds of signs and portents in the Notre-Dame fire. What is certainly true is that the images warn us of our own mortality. And it is also true that despite the horror, they show us what brings us together, regardless of race, religion or creed.
And inevitably, this brings us to Brexit. As Donald Tusk, the President of the European Union, put it: “The burning of the Notre-Dame cathedral has again made us aware that we are bound by something more important, and more profound than treaties.”
It would be fallacious and disrespectful to suggest that in one fell swoop this catastrophe will cause politicians to reconsider the prospect of the European Union crashing to the ground, each country eventually falling like so many pieces of venerable French oak tumbling from a barrel-vaulted ceiling.
However, we should all remind ourselves of the sheer power of what has just happened. If it can move a teenager to tears, it surely has the potential to make us all stop, think and reconsider everything that we take for granted.