Several days after the devastating fire, the emotion still hugs. "We had a traumatic experience," Do not hesitate to say Priscilla. Monday evening, while the first flames devoured the attic and the roof of the cathedral, the fifties barely came out of his office of the diocesan house, rue du Cloitre-Notre-Dame, near the building. For three hours, she could not take her eyes off the fire, sending photos and news to Karine Dalle, the Diocesan's director of communication at regular intervals, and Michel Aupetit, archbishop of Paris.(read opposite).
Every Catholic that night was scared. "I went to bed when we learned on television that the cathedral was saved," says the lawyer Jean-Pierre Mignard. "We all felt an emotion difficult to control," supports the publisher Marc Leboucher. There are those who began to pray. Sometimes even on the bridges of the Seine, keeping in sight, in the night, the two towers still standing, indifferent to cameras from around the world who broadcast live the latest news of the disaster.
Then, this evening of April 15, in front of the fire, an immense fatalism first prevailed among Catholics. What the collapse of the arrow built in the nineteenthe century by the architect Eugene Viollet-le-Duc was it the sign? "We felt that everything could fall apart. The cathedral was burning, nothing was spared us, says Erwan Le Morhedec, aka "Koz", a very influential Catholic on social networks.
Was it the harbinger of the end of the Catholic Church in France? Fire, as the culmination of horrible months? Faced with the crisis of sexual abuse, French Catholicism continues to tremble on its foundations, shaken by the trials, the conviction of Cardinal Philippe Barbarin, the revelations of rape committed against nuns or the unveiling of the homosexuality of the Vatican prelates. For many, the date of the fire also makes sense. "Monday was the beginning of Holy Week, contributing to the dramatization of the event", remark Marc Leboucher. At the extreme, some have even evoked a time of persecution, referring to the wave of profanation of churches that took place in recent months, even, in a very apocalyptic vision, to a gigantic battle between good and evil . "I still feel that these readings are marginal", tempered Marc Leboucher.
But the affliction born of the catastrophe was also doubled with some consolation. Notre Dame is not just a Catholic place of worship. Far from it, as was shown by the emotion that gripped public opinion in the face of the fire. The living and spontaneous proof that by its history, the cathedral of Paris embodies a kind of "church of the nation". "The affection brought to Our Lady is manifold. Each is fed by different sources and each is legitimate ", recognizes Jean-Pierre Mignard. Even the very layman Jean-Luc Mélenchon shared: "The fire of Notre-Dame stabs the spirit of all," tweeted it.
Monday evening, containing his tears, the rector of the cathedral, Patrick Chauvet, appeared alongside the mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, he called by name. In its dark hours, the Republic stood with the Church. The distress of Catholics was that of France as a whole. Erwan Le Morhedec: "I thought then that the Catholic Church was not, this time, associated with something negative. Something remained that could bring us together, Catholicism had not yet reached a point of total rejection. "
In fact, a posteriori, the fire of April 15 appears as a time when Catholicism, vilified and marginalized, has reinstated the national narrative. In fifty years, the Catholic Church has experienced a silent revolution. The times of Christianity are now over, she entered a culture of the minority. "What we have seen in recent days is that Catholicism still remains a register of expression of national sentiment," says sociologist Yann Raison du Cleuziou. "For Catholics, it has been a relief, continues the sociologist of religions Céline Béraud. These communities are often frustrated by the lack of recognition of what they bring to society. "
Politically, the moment is still perilous. Like a Philippe de Villiers who says in the conservative weekly Christian family that the fire is "A sign that France can die", Catholic identity circles are tempted to resurrect the controversial and exclusive rhetoric of Christian roots. Without really finding an echo. The obsession with identity focuses on the question of a reconstruction identical to the cathedral, defended all claws out by the very Catholics Laurent Wauquiez and François-Xavier Bellamy, head of list LR in the European elections. "A Catholic right is trying to get on the bandwagon, remarks Yann Reason of the Cleuziou. The reaffirmation of Christian roots is a way for her to counter the social marginalization of Catholicism. "
Carefully, anxious not to recover, the episcopal hierarchy is away from these debates. For her (and the majority of her flock), far from political instrumentalizations, the real stake that is played out these days is that Catholicism remains alive. The real tragedy would be that it is nothing more than a cultural heritage. With the risk of being reduced to ashes in a few hours …
Bernadette Sauvaget Photo Stéphane Lagoutte. Myop