France is a country deeply devoted to civic pride, so it’s no surprise that there is outcry this month over plans, approved by the National Heritage and Architecture Commission, to renovate some of the interior spaces of Notre-Dame Cathedral, rather than just the roof and spire, damaged in a fire in April of 2019. While initial sentiment seemed determined to guide a restoration effort to preserve things “in the same way visually as before,” current plans reportedly include confessional boxes, altars, and classical sculptures to be replaced with modern art murals, and new sound and light effects to create “emotional spaces,” according to reporting by the Telegraph.
In an article signed by 106 public figures and published jointly by the magazine La Tribune de l’Art and newspaper Le Figaro on December 7, critics of the proposal wrote: “The Archdiocese of Paris wants to take advantage of the restoration work to transform the interior of Notre-Dame into a project that completely distorts the decor and liturgical space.” They also accuse the Archdiocese of using the necessary repair of the roof and spire — restoration and conservation of which fall under the purview of the French government — as cover to “transform the visitor’s perception of the monument, even though the fire was limited to the roof and the spire and did not destroy any of the heritage inside.”
Maurice Culot, an architect who has seen the plans, told the Telegraph: “It’s as if Disney were entering Notre-Dame,” and the article signatories, who include Alain Finkielkraut and Pierre Nora from the prestigious Académie Française, said some proposals recalled “‘immersive’ cultural projects where, often, inanity vies with kitsch.”
“The church is 2,000 years old — it is an old lady,” said Didier Rykner, editor in chief of the art magazine La Tribune de l’Art and one of the signatories of the open letter in Le Figaro, quoted in the New York Times. “It has a history that we must respect, that today’s people cannot erase with a stroke of the pen.”
Ultimately, though cathedral authorities are responsible for its interior renewal, the plans must still be approved by France’s Ministry of Culture. This threshold may be difficult to breach, even before public outcry. Culture Minister Roselyne Bachelot previously said that the restored cathedral should look “identical” to its form before the fire. Vive la Dame, and to those taking a stand against the dismantling of history in the name of easier aesthetics, bonne chance!
Correction 12/15/21 11:29am: An earlier version of this article misstated the date of the Notre-Dame fire as April of 2017. However, the conflagration occurred in 2019.
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