You’d expect religious matters to figure more prominently in the media in Holy Week, and so they did, but I never reckoned on a major fire in Notre Dame Cathedral and the massacre at churches in Sri Lanka.
It was blanket coverage of Notre Dame on the Monday night and through Tuesday, but as interest waned somewhat on the main news channels I turned to France 24 News as my TV news outlet of choice. I found the atmosphere rather sombre and solemn as some newsreaders seemed almost in mourning. There was no blurring of the fact that this was a sacred place, but it was also described as a place of art, culture, peace, reconciliation and unity.
There were lots of interesting historical details, e.g. how de Gaulle celebrated there as soon as the defeated Nazis left the city at the end of World War II, and how his funeral was held there in 1970. There was a segment on other French cathedral fires (e.g. Nantes) over the years and the grainy black and white footage was remarkably similar to the high definition colour pictures from the Monday night.
In the review of the newspapers they started with the Catholic newspaper La Croix, with its headline ‘Le Coeur en Cendres’, and they even included the headline from The Scotsman – ‘La Tragédie de Notre Dame’.
Despite the disaster there were many positives – the fact that there was no loss of life, how so many artefacts had been saved, the cheering on of the firefighters and that heartening footage of people, very many of them young adults, praying and singing hymns near the cathedral.
The dramatic image of the falling spire contrasted with the crucifix that survived inside, shining gold in a shaft of light. In a broader sense the much vaunted secular nature of the French state got to re-examine itself and consider its Christian heritage.
On Sky News that night, on Press Preview there was positive coverage of the efforts of Fr Fournier, chaplain to the fire fighters, to save sacred items from the cathedral and it was noted that previously he had also put himself at personal risk to tend to victims of the Bataclan massacre. On BBC News’ The Papers that golden cross on the front pages was highlighted.
Notre Dame got a mention on last Friday’s The Leap of Faith (RTÉ Radio 1), an enjoyable Easter special that explored how artists, musicians and writers have engaged with the Easter story. Notre Dame was described as touching all the bases with its art work, architecture, the music played on its organ and it’s appearance in Victor Hugo’s Hunchback of Notre Dame.
Other shows also marked Holy Week in an appropriate way. Fern Britton’s Holy Land Journey was yet another pilgrimage type programme from BBC. Maybe there was too much of the celebrity presenter, but it was an absorbing look at modern Jerusalem.
Britton was chirpy from the start but became quite emotional when she visited the sites where Jesus walked. She described herself as “a struggling Christian” and had her Bible as her “guide book for life”. She had a reflective moment on the Mount of Olives and the Garden of Gethsemane before seeing where recent research suggests the trial of Jesus took place.
She found herself “transported back in time”, though there were contemporary constructs as well – she wasn’t impressed with the ugly security wall at the site of Bethany. For those who haven’t been to the holy sites it was a welcome introduction to the grave of Lazarus, the Via Dolorosa, the rock of Calvary and the site of Jesus’ tomb.
Pilgrimage: Road to Rome (BBC2), reviewed here a few weeks ago, ended last Friday night with the celebrities meeting Pope Francis, and that was a touching and emotional moment. The celebrities were quite moved, some to tears, even some of those who were non-believers. Pope Francis pointed out to them that life is a journey, a human pilgrimage, whether you’re a person of faith or not. He asked the believers to pray for him and those without faith to wish him a good journey so he wouldn’t let anyone down.
He expressed similar sentiments during the Urbi et Orbi ceremony (RTÉ1, BBC1 and EWTN, Sunday) and was visibly distressed by that morning’s tragic news from Sri Lanka, a story that made for grim Easter Sunday viewing.
Pick of the week
RTÉ1, Sunday, April 28, 11 am
Fr Peter O’Connor celebrates Mass in the RTÉ studios with the choir and congregation of the Church of the Holy Name, Beechwood Avenue, Ranelagh, Dublin.
Songs of Praise
BBC1, Sunday, April 28
After the fire in Notre Dame, Josie d’Arby reveals how York Minister had to be rebuilt after a fire 35 years ago.
EWTN, Monday, April 29, 2.30 pm; Friday, May 3, 10 pm
A look at the history of Ballintubber Abbey in County Mayo, Ireland, the only church in Ireland founded by an Irish king that is still in daily use today.