- Albert Mackey, The Symbolism of Freemasonry (1892)
It was therefore with great sadness that Freemasons of all faiths learned of the fire and partial destruction of Notre Dame de Paris cathedral by fire this past month. D.C. Grand Master Charbel Fahed feels this loss keenly, being a native of Lebanon and immersed in French culture from birth: “My heart bleeds at the loss of one of the most revered and precious landmarks of French culture, a magnificent building which has enjoyed the admiration of countless generations since the thirteenth century. I have oftentimes during my many visits there prayed fervently that the Supreme Architect of the Universe protects and safeguards this immense artistic jewel so that every race, creed, and national background may be inspired by this intricately detailed projection of what man can achieve when inspired by divine power.”
From our tradition and ritual, we as Masons have a unique understanding of the somber sentiment and importance of structures, works, words, and meanings which have been lost. Many great edifices of the past, from our venerated Solomon’s Temple to the great Library of Alexandria, have been destroyed by earthquakes, war, fire, and the simple passage of time. Even our relatively new National Cathedral here in Washington has not escaped nature’s
ravages, when it was severely damaged in the earthquake of 2011. Many of these wonders remain in ruins hundreds or thousands of years later.
In the face of such losses, the commitment of the French people to rebuild Notre Dame is both welcome and commendable. Of course, much craftsmanship and time will be required to reconstruct Notre Dame; relatively few craftsmen have the skills to undertake this exacting work, and even in modern times cathedral building is a slow affair. Those working on comparatively minor repairs to our National Cathedral, still ongoing almost eight years later, can testify to this fact. Given our experience in Washington, it remains to be seen whether a building
In the same way, we as speculative Masons also must not expect to build the Temple of Humanity overnight. While a great deal of progress may be made in a five-year period, smoothing out the rough ashlar into the more perfect ashlar is the work of a lifetime. Sometimes the work proceeds rapidly and sometimes slowly, and there can be setbacks. Indeed, it is a task and an ideal which may never be realized fully in this world, but rather in the world which is to come. Nevertheless, that which was lost may be found. Let us take this as an inspiration to continue to work on our own rough ashlars, building our own private temples within, and constructing the Temple of Humanity to create a better world for all.