Paris archdiocese to present plans for Notre-Dame’s interior amid outcry

Notre Dame de Paris repairs November 2019 Credit  Vicente Sargues Shutterstock Repair scaffolding on Notre-Dame de Paris, November 2019. | Vicente Sargues/Shutterstock.

The Catholic Archdiocese of Paris will present its plans for the restoration of Notre-Dame Cathedral’s interior next week after it dismissed criticism that its proposals would turn the site into “a kind of theme park.”

Officials will submit their proposals to France’s National Heritage and Architecture Commission on Dec. 9 amid a new outcry over the restoration of the cathedral badly damaged by fire in 2019, reported AFP.

The news agency said that the archdiocese denied foreign media reports that the celebrated French Gothic cathedral, built between 1163 and 1345, risked being transformed into a theme park or filled with jarring contemporary art.

The Daily Telegraph, a British newspaper, reported on Nov. 26 that critics feared the changes would turn the building into a “politically correct Disneyland.”

It said that “confessional boxes, altars, and classical sculptures will be replaced with modern art murals, and new sound and light effects to create ‘emotional spaces.’”

“There will be themed chapels on a ‘discovery trail,’ with an emphasis on Africa and Asia, while quotes from the Bible will be projected onto chapel walls in various languages, including Mandarin,” it added.

Maurice Culot, an architect who has seen the plans, told the newspaper: “It’s as if Disney were entering Notre-Dame.”

“What they are proposing to do to Notre-Dame would never be done to Westminster Abbey or St. Peter’s in Rome. It’s a kind of theme park and very childish and trivial given the grandeur of the place,” he commented.

In an interview with AFP, Father Gilles Drouin, the priest overseeing the interior restoration, appeared to confirm the proposals but argued that they did not amount to a radical change.

He explained that the restoration sought to preserve the cathedral as a place of worship, but also to welcome and educate visitors “who are not always from a Christian culture.”

He said that side chapels would feature “portraits from the 16th and 18th century that will be in dialogue with modern art objects.”

“The cathedral has always been open to art from the contemporary period, right up to the large golden cross by sculptor Marc Couturier installed by [the then archbishop of Paris] Cardinal Lustiger in 1994,” he said.

The French government is overseeing the cathedral’s structural restoration and conservation, but the cathedral authorities are responsible for its interior renewal.

The plans must ultimately be approved by France’s Ministry of Culture. Culture Minister Roselyne Bachelot has previously suggested that the restored cathedral should look “identical” to before the fire.

This is not the first time that restoration plans have generated controversy. Critics denounced a proposal leaked in December 2020 to replace architect Viollet-le-Duc’s historic stained-glass windows with colorful contemporary designs in the chapels around the nave.

A spokeswoman for the archdiocese told the National Catholic Register at the time that “it goes without saying that the archbishop has never had any intention to turn the cathedral into an airport or a parking lot.”

The cathedral will reportedly reopen for worship with a Te Deum on April 16, 2024, five years after the blaze. Later that year, Paris will host the Summer Olympics.

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