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St. ChapelleNotre Dame de Paris was completed in 1345.  My wife and I visited it in 2006.  That’s… 661 years later.  I think.

We walked into the cathedral, two of countless visitors in the last six-and-a-half centuries, just as the mass choir was finishing up.  The air was filled with resonant voices singing Latin hymns that were older than the country in which I live.  It was easy to let the crowds of other tourists, the tawdry shops, the occasional pickpocket completely disappear.   The pillars seemed to go on forever.  The brilliant sunlight outside was diffused into a rainbow of  muted colours that lit the intricate stone floor.

I felt something of what it might have been like to be a medieval pilgrim arriving at a building that would have seemed like a construction by the very hand of God.

In a world obsessed with the tallest towers, or the longest bridges, or the fastest planes, it is worth remembering the power of making something beautiful.

Morris felt the same awe he had as a child; each and every time that he walked into the hushed space of the church it was as though he was taken from a dingy and sinful world and carried into the rich splendour of God’s kingdom.  The high vaulted ceiling disappeared into the dim light.  The walls were draped in vast tapestries of the lives of saints and sinners.  Candles burned by the dozens, their tallow dripping heavily over the stands and down to the marble floor.  The hushed whispers of supplications echoed gently, blending into a gentle murmur of faithfulness.  Morris bent his head and knee as he approached the altar, holding his daughter tightly to his chest.

“Who is this young man that graces us with his presence?”

Morris turned to find Father MacNamara watching him bemusedly with his one good eye.  As he saw the shivering bundle in Morris’s arms, however, the smile quickly faded and was replaced with a very genuine look of concern.  “Morris, what is happening here?”

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