French Heritage Experts Have Approved Controversial Notre-Dame Plans That Critics Say Will ‘Distort’ the Famed Cathedral

Around 100 public intellectuals spoke out against the plan in a signed editorial.

Removing scaffolding at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris after the fire. Photo courtesy of Friends of Notre-Dame de Paris.

French authorities have approved a proposal to revamp the interior of Notre-Dame Cathedral despite opposition from 100 cultural figures and criticisms saying the changes would “Disneyify” the historic landmark.

The French National Heritage and Architecture Commission offered a favorable opinion to the proposal following a meeting on Thursday, December 9, giving the plan a green light to proceed.

The proposals submitted by the diocese of Paris, which is responsible for the cathedral, would install contemporary artworks and mood lighting to give the 850-year-old gothic structure a new look when it is scheduled to reopen in 2024, just in time for the Paris Olympics.

Displays inside the cathedral, including 2,000 movable objects, would also be rearranged so that visitors—12 million per year prior the devastating 2019 fire—will have more space.

The redesign aims to foster a “dialogue” between old and new, according to Notre-Dame’s rector, Patrick Chauvet.

Proponents of the plan say that bridging medieval architecture with modern elements, including the pairing of artworks from the cathedral’s Old Masters collection with works by possible artists such as Anselm Kiefer and Louise Bourgeois, would make it more accessible to contemporary audiences, the AFP reported.

Excerpts from the Bible in multiple languages may be projected onto the wall as part of a new, softer lighting system that is still being considered by the diocese, Chauvet told the New York Times.

The roof of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris after the fire. Photo courtesy of Etablissement Public pour la restauration de Notre-Dame de Paris.

The roof of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris after the fire. Photo courtesy of Etablissement Public pour la restauration de Notre-Dame de Paris.

The approval came just two days after some 100 public figures, including art historians, heritage and architecture experts, intellectuals, artists, and writers signed a petition in Le Figaro and La Tribune de l’Art condemning the diocese of Paris for taking “advantage of the restoration project.”

The proposal, they said, “completely distorts the decor and the liturgical space.”

“The diocese wants to appear modern with these works. But we must respect the monument and the spirit of Viollet-le-Duc,” Didier Rykner, an art historian, journalist, and founder of La Tribune de l’Art, said on TV5Monde on Friday. Rykner was referring to Eugène Viollet-le-Duc, who restored Notre-Dame in the mid-19th century.

Images of Notre-Dame swallowed in flames shocked the world in April 2019, and almost $1 billion has been raised to rebuild the cathedral. There have since been lengthy and dramatic debates on restoration plans, including one involving a proposal by President Emmanuel Macron to replace the spire with “a contemporary architectural gesture.” That suggestion was dropped after a public outcry.

The 20-member heritage panel that approved the new plans, however, was concerned about the design of new benches that will replace old straw chairs.

The French Ministry of Culture did not respond to requests for comment by press time.

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