EDITOR’S NOTE: Clemente Lisi is currently in France, covering the FIFA Women’s World Cup.
PARIS — It has been two months since a fire at the start of Holy Week destroyed the roof of the famed Notre Dame Cathedral. The large gothic structure now sits, enveloped in scaffolding, as a part of the low-rise Parisian skyline. The 300-foot spire that once appeared to stretch out to heaven is missing. These are constant reminders of that April 15 blaze and the hard work that lies ahead.
Rebuilding the ornate cathedral will be a painstaking task. Estimated to cost in the billions, Notre Dame has also become a pawn in a broader political fight that has divided France and much of the continent.
In a country so politically polarized — the outcome of the recent European election was another reminder of this — the fate of Notre Dame very much rests in the hands of the country’s warring lawmakers.
There has been much speculation since the accidental fire over what will happen to the 12th century structure. A symbol of European Catholicism and Western civilization since the Middle Ages, a tug-of-war has traditionalists and modernists divided over what is the best way to rebuild.
“I think that some of the proposals are quite interesting, in particular, the notion of creating a very large glass skylight. If that were done to be a modern version of stained glass, I think it could be absolutely beautiful,” said architect Brett Robillard. “Stained glass was something of the first ‘films’ with light moving through pictures. So I think there is real poetry there to see modern technology paid homage to something so embedded in the religious spectrum and fill the spaces with beautiful light.”
Should Notre Dame be restored it to its former Medieval glory or reflect a more modern aesthetic?
This is at the center of the fight and, thus, press coverage of the debates.
Despite the debate, the country’s senate recently passed a resolution stipulating that the cathedral must be rebuilt to the “last known visual state.” While the senate measure is just a first step, exactly what it means for the restoration of the spire and roof also remains open to debate.
In the days after the fire, The Guardian quoted the prime minister, Edouard Philippe, stating that the hope was for “a new spire adapted to the techniques and the challenges of our era.”
That’s why all those gaudy renderings started popping up on Instagram. The bill, however, did strike a blow to those in the government who wanted to use an international competition allowing them to consider less traditional options.
President Emmanuel Macron called for “an inventive reconstruction,” although he has not offered up any specifics. On the other hand, Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo, a member of the Socialist party, has said she backs an identical restoration, calling herself “conservative” on the issue. However, that hasn’t stopped some architectural firms from throwing out some wildly imaginative plans, including the construction of a public swimming pool on the cathedral’s rooftop.
“Some of the proposals I’ve seen — the swimming pool for example — are hard to take seriously,” Robillard said. “Overall, I think that the building already has a legacy of being adapted and renovated through different ages, so doing something that is representative of our present day is not only appropriate, I think it’s the right thing to do. Creating something that is mimicking the past is, in my opinion, never a good strategy.”
Macron has said — and the senate bill confirmed — the plan is for the cathedral to be rebuilt in time for when the French capitol hosts the Summer Olympics in 2024. It remains an ambitious timetable. Notre Dame has been the property of the French government since 1789, although there is an agreement in place stipulating that the Catholic church has exclusive rights to its use. At the same time, over $1 billion has already been pledged through a series of large and small donations, although architects and preservation experts have warned against speeding up the restoration process.
Despite Macron’s stance to quickly want to rebuild, the issue has not helped him politically.
Continue reading “Rebuilding Notre Dame: French Politicians Divided Over How The Cathedral Should Look,” at Religion Unplugged.