One need not be Catholic or Christian or even particularly religious to be touched by the horrific fire that ravaged the historic Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris late Monday.
The fire started during a major renovation project, and is believed to have been ignited accidentally.
It didn’t take long for two-thirds of the roof of the 850-year-old masterpiece of Gothic architecture to be engulfed in flames, fueled by wood of the 1,300 oak trees used to create a network of interior wooden beams.
As I watched the cathedral’s spire glow from the rising flames and then suddenly collapse and crash to the ground, I couldn’t help but think of the role that wine has played in religion through the centuries.
Going back as far as 4,000 B.C., the Egyptians associated several gods with wine. Dionysus was identified as the patron of wine by the ancient Greeks. Many of the ancient Romans’ religious festivals were tied to various aspects of the grape-growing cycle, particularly the harvest season.
Fast-forward to early America, where the Pilgrims planted vines not long after landing at Plymouth. Although some historic accounts have been debated, it’s believed that the wine they made from the grapes grown on those vines was consumed at the first Thanksgiving in 1623.
One of America’s founding fathers, Benjamin Franklin, observed that wine is “proof that God loves us, and loves to see us happy.”
Growing up in Southern California, I was introduced to the work of Jesuit priests and the network of missions they built up and down the California coast, from San Diego to San Francisco. Grapevines were planted adjacent to most of the missions to provide a reliable source of wine for celebrating Communion.
Wine has been present in so much of religious history, and continues to play a role in religious ceremonies today. But for believers and non-believers alike, a visit to Notre Dame Cathedral was a must-stop on any tour of Paris, right up there with the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre Museum. Thirteen million people visited the cathedral each year.
Although the fire was devastating, reports indicate that most of the cathedral’s art treasures were saved, the building’s exterior structure still stands, and more than $400 million already has been pledged to help restore the fire-damaged interior.
That’s good news for Catholics, Christians, and anyone who loves history and architecture. It’s news worthy of a toast with a glass of French wine.