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.
But other experts have welcomed aspects of the plan. Writing in the Washington Post on Dec. 8, art historian Elizabeth Lev noted that the plan proposed the dedication of five chapels to five continents, with Bible verses projected in local languages.
“Perhaps this is what spawned the Disney comparison, a kind of Catholic Epcot Center,” she said. “But for an international icon in a city where 20% of residents are immigrants, what’s the problem with spreading a message of hope to every person who crosses that venerable threshold?”
“And while some have dubbed it ‘Christianity for Dummies,’ in a world where many Catholics are shaky on scripture and many young people are raised without religion, some back-to-basics catechetics might be in order.”
In an interview with AFP, Father Gilles Drouin, the priest overseeing the interior restoration, 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.”
Drouin, the director of the Institut supérieur de liturgie at the Institut catholique de Paris, 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 said that the restored cathedral should look “identical” to its form before the fire.
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.
(Story continues below)
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Speaking after the commission’s vote, Father Drouin told AFP: “We are very satisfied with this decision which respects the broad principles that we outlined, including the work on the lighting and the guidance for visitors.”