The overhaul proposed by the Catholic Church of the interior of Notre-Dame provokes outrage

Will the fire-ravaged interior of Notre-Dame de Paris Cathedral look more like Disneyland than France’s most iconic place of worship when it reopens after a major restoration? So fear outraged critics of a new interior design for the monument – planned by Catholic Church officials – which was showcased on a video conference earlier this year.

Although the project has not been officially announced, Father Gilles Drouin provided an overview of it during an online conference in May for the General Secretariat of Catholic Education in France, which was posted on YouTube.. Last Friday the British Conservative Newspaper The telegraph denounced Notre-Dame reinvented as a “politically correct Disneyland” and an “experimental exhibition hall”.

Abbé Drouin, director of the liturgical institute of Paris, said during the presentation that he had been chosen two years ago by the Archbishop of Paris, Michel Aupetit, to “revamp the interior space” of Cathedral. It offers a sound and light route along the side chapels, offering a “fruitful dialogue with contemporary art”. He plans to replace “the straw chairs, which occupy 80% of the space” by luminous “mobile benches”. Most of them could be removed on weekdays to leave more room for visitors. The altars of the chapels would also be moved and only four confessionals kept on the ground floor.

Drouin explained that Notre Dame “was not suited to cope with large numbers of tourists,” which stood at 12 million before the cathedral was devastated by fire in 2019. Visitors “come for different reasons, mostly of non-Christian or post-Christian origin ”. Christian cultures ”. Thus, the chapels, some of which could be renamed after Asia, Africa and other themes, are expected to display “multiple offerings” such as light projections of Bible quotes in foreign languages ​​including Chinese. Drouin showed drawings featuring a stained glass window and a chapel wall covered with a contemporary abstract painting of clouds.

“It’s Notre Dame de Paris transformed into Disneyland”, says the Parisian architect Maurice Culot, author of several books on religious architecture in the 19th century. “It doesn’t make sense,” he said. The Journal of the Arts. “We are rebuilding the cathedral and the spire as they were, with old materials like stone, wood and lead, and now we will have a theme park for foreign tourists inside. Why was the design not entrusted to the same architects to maintain the unity between the interior and the exterior of the building? Stressing that churches and cathedrals belong to the State in France, he asks: “How could a priest choose, on his own, the interior decoration of a cathedral which belongs to the universal heritage of humanity and which is being rebuilt with donations from around the world? “

Culot’s concerns are shared by the French architectural historian Alexandre Gady, author of a book on the history of Notre-Dame. “Obviously, the project lacks breadth and depth,” says Gady. However, he fears more the fate of the cathedral square, owned by the city, and deplores the planned transformation of the neighboring historic hospital, the Hôtel Dieu, into a shopping center.

The interior redevelopment of Notre-Dame proposed by Father Drouin will be submitted to the National Commission for Cultural Heritage of France on December 9 and the Minister of Culture, Roselyne Bachelot, could have the last word on issues such as the kidnapping. old stained-glass windows. But Culot argues that the government “has already approved a compromise by leaving the initiative for the interior of the cathedral to the Church.”

Father Drouin denied that the plan to redesign Notre-Dame is radical. “For eight centuries, Notre-Dame de Paris has been constantly evolving and the Church intends to renew the tradition of commissions from living artists,” he explains. In an interview this week with AFP, the French news agency, he defended plans to welcome visitors “who are not always of Christian culture,” adding that Notre-Dame has observed more visitors from China. light candles in a chapel dedicated to a Chinese martyr. after installing explanatory texts in Mandarin.

Meanwhile, Jean-Louis Georgelin, the army general who heads the special agency responsible for the reconstruction of Notre-Dame, is working against the clock to honor the commitment made by President Emmanuel Macron to reopen the monument before the Paris 2024 Olympic Games. Experts already admit that the work will not be completed and that the spire will not be rebuilt by then, but Georgelin has promised to hold a Te Deum service in the cathedral on April 16, 2024, marking the fifth anniversary of the catastrophic fire. There could certainly be no controversy that could further delay the restoration.

The latest debate comes a week after the Archbishop of Paris offered his resignation to the Pope after the press claimed he had an affair with a woman in 2012. Michel Aupetit, who was reportedly criticized for his management style authoritarian, recognized an “ambiguous” relationship. but said it was platonic.


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