The modernization of the interior of Notre-Dame gets the green light

PARIS – The last in a series of controversies which surrounded the renovation of Notre-Dame took place Thursday, when a commission of h...


PARIS – The last in a series of controversies which surrounded the renovation of Notre-Dame took place Thursday, when a commission of heritage experts gave the green light to an overhaul of the interior of the burnt cathedral.

The National Commission for Heritage and Architecture of France has approved proposals from the Diocese of Paris to bring a more modern look to Notre-Dame before its scheduled reopening in 2024, including the installation of contemporary works of art and new light effects. Opponents say the changes will degrade the 850-year-old cathedral and disrupt the harmony of its Gothic design.

The heritage commission also authorized cathedral administrators to rearrange the tabernacle and other items to create more space for visitors. Mgr. Patrick Chauvet, rector of Notre-Dame, said the proposals would make for an easier and more enjoyable visit to the religious monument and create “a dialogue” between the medieval architecture of Notre-Dame and new, more modern elements.

Works of art from the 20th and 21st centuries could be placed alongside paintings by old masters from the cathedral’s collection, such as “The Nativity of the Virgin Mary” by Mathieu Le Nain, Chauvet said.

He added that the diocese was also considering light projections on the walls of some chapels that would display short excerpts from texts from the Bible.

Most of the confessionals would be moved to the first floor in the redevelopment of the the 2000 or so pieces of furniture in the cathedral, said Chauvet, and Notre-Dame’s more than 12 million annual visitors would now enter through the central portal rather than a side door.

“The idea is that the faithful, or visitors, are first struck by the grandeur, by the beauty of Notre-Dame,” said Chauvet.

Yet the addition of modern touches threatens to disfigure the cathedral, according to dozens of cultural figures and intellectuals who opposed the proposals.

Notre-Dame has already gone through more than two years of careful restoration efforts, after a a fire devastated it in April 2019, destroying the spire and most of the roof. The building is now sufficiently secure to start the rebuilding process, which is expected to be completed just in time for the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris.

The French authorities first considered seizing the opportunity to thoroughly rework the architecture of the cathedral. Heritage experts ultimately recommended that the monument be restored to its previous state and, last year, President Emmanuel Macron abandoned the idea of ​​replacing the 19th century spire with something more contemporary.

On Tuesday, a hundred public figures in France signed their names for an open letter in the conservative newspaper Le Figaro entitled “Notre-Dame de Paris: What the fire spared, the diocese wants to destroy”.

The signatories, including Alain Finkielkraut and Pierre Nora of the prestigious French Academy, declared that certain proposals recalled “‘immersive’ cultural projects where, often, inanity competes with kitsch”.

The world The newspaper said the proposals had led to a fierce battle within the French Catholic Church between “the defenders of modernity and ecumenism and the guardians of nostalgic conservatism.”

Some conservative British newspapers have taken over parts of the redevelopment plan about creating “emotional spaces” and a “journey of discovery”. A headline from the Daily Telegraph said that Notre-Dame was facing a “awakened disney overhaul. “

Didier Rykner, editor-in-chief of the art review La Tribune de l’Art and one of the signatories of the Figaro open letter, said criticism in the British press relied on cartoons, but that he was agree with their general orientation.

“The church is 2,000 years old – it’s an old lady,” he said. “He has a story that we must respect, that people today cannot erase with a stroke of a pencil.

The heritage committee may have heard some of the criticisms. He did not accept in its entirety the proposal made to him by the diocese and rejected or questioned certain elements. The committee rejected a request, for example, to remove statues of saints from several chapels. He also called for a review of a design of removable benches that have been proposed as a replacement for the cathedral’s traditional wooden chairs, according to a statement released Thursday by the Minister of Culture.

Chauvet said the changes to the interior of Notre-Dame were not revolutionary and would only “make a bit more sense for visitors.”

“Don’t think we’re going to do Disneyland,” he said.

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