It is a peculiar thing, the way some stories are told and retold down through the ages, the way history coils around itself and unspools again as the earth hurtles through the firmament. And every now and then, humanity quietly redeems itself in some small way, as it did this week, when a horrific cloud of smoke blackened the skies above the 4th arrondissement of Paris.
We need to start about 3,000 years ago, in the vicinity of what is now the Palestinian village of Nabi Samwill, just a few kilometres north of Jerusalem. A Levite woman by the name of Hannah was incapable of bearing children, so she prayed to God for the birth of a son, and she vowed that in return she would offer the child to God’s service. Upon the birth of her son Samuel, Hannah kept her promise. Samuel would go on to become the high priest of Israel, one of the greatest of the Jewish prophets.
One of the most moving passages of the Tanakh is the Song of Hannah, from the Book of Samuel: The Lord makes poor and makes rich; He brings low, He also exalts. He raises up the poor from the dust; He lifts the needy from the ash heap, to make them sit with princes and inherit a seat of honour.
Composed roughly 1,000 years later, the story of Mary of Galilee, as first told by the Christian evangelists Luke and John, is more than merely striking in its similarity to the story of Hannah. Oddly enough, Mary’s story is more fully and lyrically told centuries later in the Koran — Mary is the only woman Islam’s most holy book mentions by name. In any case, as with Hannah’s son Samuel, Mary’s son Jesus is believed to have been born by God’s intercession, and is also destined to a life in God’s service.
Like the Song of Hannah, the Song of Mary, which is a canticle known as the Magnificat in the Roman Catholic tradition, is a thing of great beauty. It also unfolds in much the same way: He has cast down the mighty from their thrones, and has lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty.
Another 1,000 years or so after Luke and John wrote their accounts of Mary’s son Jesus, Louie the Younger, King of the Franks, set out on what was to consume the life’s work of tens of thousands of artisans and tradesmen and labourers over nearly two centuries, in the construction of a cathedral on an island in the Seine to be consecrated in honour of Mary, Our Lady, Notre Dame.
In this image made available on Tuesday April 16, 2019 flames and smoke rise from the blaze after the spire toppled over on Notre Dame cathedral in Paris, Monday, April 15, 2019.
And then on Monday evening, almost 1,000 years after Louie the Younger imagined a towering masterpiece of Gothic architecture arising from the Île de …read more