The fire at the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris brought back painful memories for the Episcopal Diocese of New York.
It was in 2001 when a fire damaged the Diocese’s own iconic Cathedral, Saint John the Divine. The 127-year-old building, one of the largest churches in the world, is known for its long center aisle, massive columns and stained glass windows.
“Seeing the Notre Dame on fire I said, ‘You know, that could have been us, that could have been us again and how lucky we were,’” said Lorraine Simmons, a sub-deacon at St. John the Divine.
The fire at St. John the Divine has some parallels to the fire at Notre Dame. It started in the wooden trusses in the ceiling, destroyed the gift shop and damaged the cathedral’s center aisle and chapels.
“We literally thought we were going to lose the cathedral, you can see the flames and the firemen and everything that was going on,” said Harry Johnson, a member of the cathedral.
It took the Diocese seven years to rebuild and reopen the cathedral. The part of the ceiling that was destroyed has been replaced with a metal ceiling. This Diocese wants the people of France to know they too can rebuild.
“They’ll recover,” said Reverend Clifton Daniel. “They’ll move ahead they’ll be a little battered a little bit scarred. They’ll always have some pain, but they’re going to go ahead so I have confidence in the future.”
Oddly enough, right before the Note Dame fire, St. John the Divine was damaged by another fire last weekend on Palm Sunday. It started in the basement, and smoke did force worshippers to evacuate. The flames were quickly contained, but that fire reminded the dioceses of 2001 and how vulnerable these places of worship can be.
The diocese was able to resume Holy Week services Tuesday morning by pulling together another message for France.
“We were able to rally as Christians, as brothers and sisters of a community,” said Johnson.
The clergy here at St. John the Divine say these fires are a reminder of how important preservation efforts are to maintain these cherished houses of worship for years to come.