The Monster of Notre Dame



Photo by Marc-Olivier Jodoin on Unsplash

The sadness over the burning of the Notre Dame Cathedral was felt rightfully so. Although I never visited the Church I knew of it’s importance from the film, “The Hunchback of Notre Dame.” As I watched videos of it burning, it reminded me of the question that the audience is posed at the beginning of the film, “Who is the monster and who is a man?” And in the end, “What makes a monster and what makes a man?” Never does the film tell us who is the monster is or the man is. We are to interpret it. One interpretation could be about what one of my friends wrote about called churchianity. This is the idea that Christians worship the church more than God*. Although I see this, I believe that the film and the flames of Notre Dame are representing the forgotten and abused by the monster of Notre Dame, the Church.

The antagonist of the film is Frollo, a priest who despises Gypsies. He is obsessed with power and inadvertently causes the death of Quasimodo's mother and tries to drown Quasimodo. He also sets fire to a family’s hut while they are in the hut. He claims that he is “more righteous” and blames Esmeralda for his sexual attraction to her. The worst part is that there are priests and pastors like him. I’ve heard sermons interpreting one of the mass shootings as a sign that, “America is not for everyone” meaning the LGBT. Frollo is probably a pastor in the city. He represents pastors that use God as a way to condemn people. These people he tries to condemn end up hating themselves.

The protagonist is Quasimodo a man that was born to a Gypsy woman with some deformities. Frollo, under pressure raises him by enslaving him in the bells of Notre Dame. Quasimodo only has had Frollo as his guardian. He constantly reminds him that he is deformed and unloved. As if this abuse is not bad enough, Quasimodo says that his face is not supposed to see heaven’s light. The same thing happens when a girl wants to preach in the church. She may believe that God does not want her to speak. Or the thousands of suicides on the hands of the church because it is believed that who one loves is a sin. Luckily, Quasimodo learns that Frollo lied to him because  realizes that he is a miracle.

Quasimodo meets Esmeralda, a Gypsy, who  sees him as a person and not a curse. She shows him that even though the institution may see a person as a sin they are wrong. She is seen as wicked because she is a foreigner. My favorite part is when she sings, “ God Help the Outcasts.” In this song she questions if even she is allowed to talk to God. She asks for God to help the outcasts not the rich or the priests. This is contrasted with parishioners asking for things like fame and wealth. Esmeralda, a minority wants to help others. Does she care about the church? No. Her character represents the people like the ones in the United Methodist Church that defy the idea of “traditional marriage” for what is morally right. She is the Catholic women fighting for ordination and the kids that are praying to leave their abusive churches.

How does a burning church represent all of this? It is the pain maybe so heavy from abuse within not only the Catholic, Southern Baptist, United Methodist Churches but others. The beauty of the church couldn’t handle it anymore and wanted  a release and sadly that was through a fire. Yes it is heartbreaking but there is some good news. It is going to be rebuilt even if everyone ignores that the Aqsa mosque or the three Black churches burned. Despite this there is hope. The best part of the film is when Quasimodo saves Esmeralda from being burned by the stake. He goes back to Notre Dame and declares, “Sanctuary.” He is reclaiming what the church is supposed to do. It is supposed to be a sanctuary for the marginalized. He’s taking it back. This again shown when  Quasimodo is lifted up and carried by the peasants towards a greater future at the end. It isn’t the rich or the priests but the marginalized that are leading the way. And that’s happening in real life too. This generation is either leaving the Church or fighting for the right for everyone.

I hope one day that every Church will be filled with Quasimodo's and Esmeraldas and priests that aren’t like Frollo. American Christianity has become this virus that refuses to question the traditions of the Church and the Bible. It has becomes about rules and ways to avoid going to Hell instead of how to be better. If Christians only saw the beauty of a religion filled with questions and true diversity (not respectability politics) this could be a religion that could soar.

*Courtney, Godwin, Hellfire or Heaven’s Light: Churchianity versus Christianity in Disney’s Hunchback of Notre Dame ( 2018)