Cave of Candles
Notre Dame's Grotto / by Dorothy V. Corson

Chapter 4

Our Lady is on the Dome!

On April 23, 1879, eight months after Sorin's Our Lady of Lourdes Grotto was dedicated, the second Main Building was destroyed by fire. An eye witness to the atmosphere during the 1879 fire gives a firsthand account.

The force of contrast has been strikingly illustrated by two circumstances connected with the fire. One is the tall chimney of the steam-house, which seems so very tall since the college has disappeared from its front. Standing without relief among the little buildings that are left, it seems to have suddenly shot up into the blue sky. The other contrast to which we refer is the striking of the clock in the Church tower during the burning of the College. At twelve, at one, and at two the solemn strokes were sounded as usual, but with almost supernatural effect upon the ear, as if the clock of eternity were knelling the conflagration of the globe and the destruction of all things. Time marked its ceaseless course through the terrible burning, even as it had done in the hours of peace, study and prayer. We shall never forget that bell, unruffled and peaceful, as it was heard, and barely heard, amid the crackling and roaring of the flames, the falling of walls, the noise of the engine, the rushing and hissing of water and the loud shouts of men -- the peaceful but appalling sound of these sweet church bells striking the hours of God's ever passing time, His quiet, all-embracing Eternity. (70)

In the concept of God's ever passing time, it is sobering, to be reading those words more than one hundred years later.

Tom Schlereth's book on the Main Building, A Dome of Learning, reports the fate of the Blessed Virgin statue atop the first dome:

The fire spread rapidly across the roof to the base of the wood and tin dome which, when its supports burned away, collapsed under the weight of Sorin's beloved statue and carried the fire into the building's interior.(71)

The 1879 Scholastic also reported another work of art destroyed in the fire:

Among the many precious works of art destroyed in the College Chapel by the late fire was the solid silver ostensorium, two and a half feet high, elegantly chased and embossed, which was a gift to Rev. Fr. Carrier from ex-Empress Eugenie. All that remains of this once beautiful object are a few lumps of molten metal found in the ruins.(72)

Once again, Father Hope records Sorin's characteristic spirited response to the disastrous fire: "I wouldn't care, even if we had lost everything! We will begin again! The Mother of God cannot be defeated!" As Father Hope put it, "It was like a grand pep talk between halves."(73)

Whatever the odds were, Sorin always knew he could count on Our Lady.(74)

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