The Notre Dame Cathedral fire united France and the world in grief for the 850-year-old monument at the heart of Paris.
That didn't last long. Donations by corporations and wealthy families to rebuild the cathedral quickly drew criticism from right and left.
The leader of the yellow vest protests that have shaken Emmanuel Macron's government sniffed that the families behind LVMH and L'Oreal would receive tax breaks, meaning the average French taxpayer would really pay for the rebuilding.
And Disney, which reaped enormous profits from a cartoon version of "The Hunchback of Notre Dame," pledged a relatively meager $5 million.
Even Macron's vow to rebuild the cathedral in five years brought discord. Experts said a restoration likely would take as long as 20 years. A debate stirred over whether the restoration should add modern construction materials or aim for an illusory historical authenticity, which the cathedral had already lost.
The fire was the result of a restoration project that was scheduled to take at least 15 years. The old cathedral, extensively refurbished in the 19th century, was falling apart, a project that didn't excite as much passion as the fire's reconstruction campaign, as Slate's Henry Grabar pointed out.
As the fire burned, I imagined Victor Hugo's Quasimodo clambering upon the ancient roof to put out the flames. Absent the noble lover of Esmeralda, the Parisian firefighters performed heroically.
The Wall Street Journal Thursday detailed how a decision to stop the fire from spreading to the cathedral's signature bell towers saved the structure from collapsing. The WSJ also reported how the firefighters used water from the Seine River, at reduced pressure, to limit the fire's damage.
Notre Dame's construction in the Middle Ages came from a society united by religion and shared artistic values. The fire recalled one of the great books on medieval society, and its veneration of the Virgin Mary, Henry Adams' "Mont St. Michel and Chartres."
Since the French Revolution, France has been a steadfastly secular nation. Outside of Notre Dame, Catholic Masses are sparsely attended. My daughter said that during a high school stay in France, she and a couple of elderly women were the only worshipers.
Yet, the country remains intensely Catholic by culture. The French personality, with its talent for abstract thought and literature, love of sensual pleasure, and old-world inefficiency, derives from long centuries of Catholic influence.
Now, Western Europe is riven by social conflict, unable to reach agreement on whether Notre Dame should be rebuilt. Someone pointed out that the "forest" of ancient timber that fueled the fire can't be replaced; France no longer has a sufficient number of mature oak trees. In the past, ancient cathedrals ruined by fire have been rebuilt with modern construction methods, without loss of their authenticity.
While France's social divisions quickly split apart, the Notre Dame fire's aftermath brought a heart-warming show of unity in a leap in donations for three black churches in rural Louisiana burned by an accused arsonist. The Baptist churches in St. Landry Parish, in the heart of French Louisiana, received $1.8 million in donations.
France sees Notre Dame as the symbol of its historic greatness, which Macron wishes to restore. Now France must summon a unified will to rebuild Notre Dame.