While we are still feeling the sadness of the Notre Dame fire, let me mention a few things about Cathedrals in general.
A definitional element of every Cathedral is that it is the site of the Bishop’s residence from which he spreads the word of God as revealed by the Pope from his throne. Thus ex cathedra means “from the teacher’s chair” with complete authority. Such decisions are supposed to be infallible and unquestionably true.
The Rheims cathedral is the very epitome of what a Gothic Cathedral should look like. It was the site for the coronation of many French kings. During the Hundred Years War between France and England, when England occupied much of France’s territory, Joan of Arc presided over the coronation of Charles VII in Rheims.
From history to art. In 1892-1893 Claude Monet rented a flat across from the Rouen Cathedral and created a series of paintings trying to capture its many moods throughout the day. From the crystal clear morning light to the descending darkness, he created over 30 canvases.
In Britain young Turner painted some sweeping views of cathedrals including his series on Salisbury cathedral. John Constable was also moved by Salisbury and created a memorable painting of it.
Many other historical figures, artists, painters and sculptors were deeply affected by Cathedrals. In Germany in 1770 a young Goethe was overwhelmed by the beauty of the cathedral of Strasbourg. He climbed its tower many times in order to challenge and ultimately overcome his vertigo.
These great Cathedrals are as rich a repository of art as any museum. They offer us remarkable collections of sculpture, frescoes and stained glass masterpieces. We will continue to cherish these iconic structures as they continue to speak to us.