For more than a century a large worksite gathered, six times a week, a daily average of 300 men. Some had began, as children, to work there. Many of them also died in that place, without knowing anything else of this world.
They were craftsmen trained in a craft, taught in secret by a master. They dedicated themselves to one single work throughout life, a monument built to honor the secret of the divine conception of the Son of God.
Slowly, painfully, they raised stone after stone, they melted iron after iron, they added board after board, they made glass after glass, "toc toc!"," tac tac!"," tic tic! " and with hardship they erected, by hand, with their craftsman tools, the gigantic main bodies of the Cathedral of the Notre Dame de Paris.
850 years ago there was work as long as there was light, from sunrise to sundown Just as Christian catechists claim the Creator of the world did, the creators of the Cathedral of Notre Dame rested only on Sundays. And, over the course of each year, they took a few days off to honor saints, to revere Jesus or Mary and store in their hearts some reinvigorating rest.
During a day's work each man had the right to stop an hour for lunch and, in the middle of the afternoon, another 15 minutes to drink... preferably wine, the drink of false force.
The salary, for those who were entitled to it, was paid daily and no one made remunerations for holidays, days off or vacations.
The life of a Notre Dame builder, in the 12th or 13th century, was, for us Western citizens of this 21st century world, unbearable.
But being a worker in the construction of Notre Dame in the 12th or 13th centuries was simultaneously one of the best possible lives the men God didn't bless by being born as children of the upper classes, could aspire to.
There were thousands of workers who erected the Cathedral of Notre Dame de Paris. A fire, perhaps fanned by a match, a cigarette, a spark, something small, minimal, tiny, almost destroyed on this Monday a huge work of humanity.
The victory of the firefighters, who saved the main structure of the Notre Dame, saved the memory of an enormous sacrifice of lives, a sacrifice that the ignorance of the real number of people who succumbed to construction failures and that the absence of count of the number of souls condemned to forever be confined to the small Île de la Cité, in the years spanning from 1163 to 1267, removes from most of the history books.
All the great buildings erected by Humanity, from the pyramids of Ancient Egypt to the skyscrapers of New York, from the Jeronimos Monastery to Mafra's Convent, were born from the imposition of sacrifice, the dedication of life, the unacceptable death, the glorious commitment of millions and millions of workers.
Whenever a great work of humanity disappears, it is not only the memory of the art or the engineering that dies. Whenever a great work of mankind disappears, the memory of labor also dies, and the record of the stages of social progress which have brought us so far vanishes.
And what is work, today, here? Is it work with rights, with schedules, with breaks, with days off, with wages, with paid vacations? Or is this a time when things seem to be going back centuries, back to the time of the slave labor that erected Notre Dame?
What era is this that leads the newspapers of the 21st century to say: "Work is killing people and nobody cares"?