Victor Hugo Saved Notre Dame of Paris

In July of 1801 the Notre Dame of Paris Cathedral was
returned to the Catholic Church in a state of disarray.  Seven months later, the savior of this now
glorious building would be born: Victor Hugo. 
Hugo was able to save the Cathedral by means of his popular book Notre
Dame de Paris
 or as known to most English speakers The Hunchback of Notre
.  One might even argue that Hugo’s
main purpose of writing the text was the save the church, for it was set for
demolition and or possible sale in the early 19th century.
However, the church about which Hugo wrote, the church that attracted
thousands of visitors in the 19th century after the book’s publication
in January of 1831, the church that when fans of Hugo’s book arrived in Paris
and sought out the beautiful building that was described in text they did not
find for what they hoped.  Instead, they
found an eyesore ready for destruction. 
This is not to say that Hugo lied in his book or to his audience.  He does spend chapters describing the dilapidated
condition of the church as he knew it; however, he compares it to what it was in the 15th century and how he
envisioned it in its greatest grandeur. The tourists wanted the 15th century version and not the
blight upon the city of Paris that it had become.
The Cathedral of Our Lady of Paris has a tumultuous history
of alteration often for the worse.  In
the 16th century the Huguenots, French protestants inspired by the
writing of the reformer John Calvin, rioted and purged Notre Dame of all things
they considered pagan or idolatrous. 
During the 18th century the church underwent a
“modernization,” which some might call vandalism.  The gothic style had fallen out of fashion
and was deemed to be barbaric, very ironic indeed, so several architects worked
to make the church into a more modern building. 
Stain glasses were dismantled and replaced with clear glass in order to
let in more light, and the stunning gothic style choir screens were replaced by
a more plain style of screen. Also occurring during the 18th century
was the famous French Revolution.  Much
damage was done to Notre Dame in the name of reason: the bell tower and spire
from the 13th century was removed, some of the bells were melted
down and repurposed, 28 statues in the Gallery of Kings were destroyed, the
church itself was made into a Temple of Reason, and finally the church was made
into a storage hall and stable.

The Restoration of Notre Dame began in 1844 with a decree
from King Louis-Philippe I.  It took some
20 years for restoration to be completed and the church rededication by
Archbishop Darboy of Parish.  However,
the lead-restoring architect, Eugene Viollet-le-Duc, lamented the restoration
process.  He said, “to restore is not to
maintain it, repair it or remake it, it is to re-establish it in a complete
state that my never have existed at a given moment” (  In other words, the Notre Dame of past beauty
is not the Notre Dame of today’s beauty.

Today Notre Dame is still undergoing renovations and
preservations, the last completed in 2010. 
It houses several relics of Christ (the crown of thorns, a fragment of
the true cross, and others) and play host to some 12 million visitors a
year.  After centuries of mistreatment,
additions, vandalism, and purgings, the visitors find a beautiful Cathedral that
was not as it is today.  Fortunately,
this is not a bad thing, for Hugo was able to bring about the salvation of a
most magnificent building because he was able to capture the once forgotten and
lost beauty of a church with his prose. 
In other words, he inspired in the heart of his reader the eternal
longing for beauty.  When the readers
could not find the beauty in the way Hugo described, they set about trying to
reestablish what once was, not for the sake of preservation or posterity, but
because beauty and majesty speaks to the human heart in a way that no other
things can.