Our Lady of Flames

Therefore in one dayΒ her plagues will overtake her:
Β Β Β Β death, mourning and famine.
She will be consumed by fire,
Β Β Β Β for mighty is the Lord God who judges her.

Revelation 18:8 NIV

Unspeakable grief and pyromaniacal ecstasy are raging inside me as I watch the images of the Cathedral engulfed in flames. I have no opinion, no educated commentary, no socially responsible stance to take. I have nothing to say about art as an expression of bourgeois mercification, about the fragility of human ambitions, about technological reproducibility or about yet another decline of Western Civilisation. All I can see in the fiery, skeletal horror of Our Lady burning to ashes is that this is not about us.

Conspiracy etiquette requires me to say that the fire of Notre-Dame de Paris is an omen of the imminent End of Days. The opulent Queen sitting upon the Great City was finally consumed by flames, as prophesied by John the Apostle. In fact, far from being just a monument of pious Catholic devotion, the Cathedral is a monstrous hermetic machine, containing hordes of demons and encoded alchemical mysteries engraved in stone. Then, the question of which Lady is reigning over this occult legion of beasts is a legitimate one; is she the Holy Virgin, incarnating the motherly love of the Church for her children? Or is she Isis, lifting her veil of darkness to reveal her mysteries to the initiates of the Art? Paris is a city of revolts, where nothing can be sacred forever. Some have already speculated that the fire was started by a man wearing a yellow vest, as a devastating sacrificial pyre to Our Lady of Insurrection.

Something about the vision of the blazing Cathedral is a reminder that it was always meant to burn. The gothic architecture agonising towards the sky merges with flames in a chilling harmony, indifferent to all human opposition to this blasphemous union. Pushed by a moralising and humanising urge, we cannot help but explain this burning as a punishment for the desecration of some idol, be it western values, democracy, history, or beauty; similarly, the burning of Babalon in the Book of Revelation is often intended as the vengeance of God against her arrogance, that will restore divine order over the people of the Earth. For some, the fall of Notre-Dame feels like a liberating execution, awakening ghosts of past Revolutions: the blazing stake of a reactionary symbol being torn apart. But Our Lady – of what? – is neither a symbol of religious oppression nor the emblem of the perpetual reproduction of cultural values, whichever they may be.

After all, this entire debate does nothing but reveal our terror of death and pain. Whether we chose to demonise them, by upholding the delirious ambition of eternal preservation of objects, ideas, and cultures, or we try to banish them as relics of unenlightened times, we are just attempting to contain a devastating flood inside the narrow channels of masculine understanding. A lot of men have a lot of opinions about what Our Lady should or should not have done, but, clearly, She had different plans. The Lady of Notre-Dame is a polymorphic feminine that was already grieving, and always burning. I find the question of why things burn somewhat ironic; a more interesting question would be if we are not all taking part in the same process of combustion.

The cult of the Virgin Mary has always struck me in its radical openness to pain. The images of Our Lady of Sorrow, with her watery eyes and brutally pierced flesh, may be interpreted as a mortification of the female body in the framework of a patriarchal religion; but rather than a statement of submission, this excruciating spectacle is the intimidating testimony of an overflowing, rebellious femininity, hysterically mutilating itself. The horror produced by the forced reproduction of civilisation through the feminine body, that patriarchy perpetually tries to hide from itself, returns pornographically exposed in her mangled image. Then, the patriarchal obsession for integrity, manifested in the perpetual virginity of the celestial mother of God, is defied by the all-consuming femininity of Mater Dolorosa, as she refuses to preserve herself. Forced into a monstrous eternity, she bleeds and cries for the sorrow of the aborted child of God, burning herself together with the flesh of the Creator.

This is an invitation to find sorrow in all things burning, and to flood the world with tears of rebellion; to deepen our wounds, until nothing will be left unbled.

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