I was deeply saddened to see the devastation caused by the fire at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris last week. Whilst the full extent of the damage is still being assessed, many of this iconic building’s priceless artefacts, such as the Crown of Thorns, have been saved and there seems to have been limited damage to the beautiful rose windows and flying buttresses. It is clear the French emergency services acted quickly to prevent this fire being so much worse.
At 850 years old this building, like so many of a similar age, has played a part in significant moments in history. In 1431, Henry VI, then aged 10, had his coronation at Notre Dame, making him King of France and England. It also saw the marriage of Mary, Queen of Scots and after the damage caused to it during the French Revolution, the coronation and marriage of Napoleon Bonaparte took place there.
At the time of the fire, the Cathedral was undergoing extensive renovation work and it is difficult not to draw comparisons with the Houses of Parliament which are also undergoing renovations. Like Notre Dame, the Houses of Parliament have witnessed defining moments in British history, such as the Gunpowder Plot and the attempted arrest of MPs by Charles I. Parts have already been destroyed during the Blitz in 1941.
Many people have been critical of the money being spent on restoring the Houses of Parliament. Whilst much of the work is structural and involves repairs to masonry there is also the need to undertake significant work internally. Many of the mechanical and electrical systems date back to just after the end of the Second World War and several are over 120 years old. Only a few weeks ago we saw water pouring through the ceiling of the House of Commons Chamber and such is the extent of the fire risk in the building at present, officials patrol 24 hours a day. I believe the events in Paris last week highlight the importance of protecting and improving this beautiful building for future generations.