Critics Say New Church-Approved Plans for Notre-Dame Will Make the Place Look Like Disneyland

The proposal includes a “discovery trail” designed to tell the story of the Bible in different languages.

Debris inside the Notre-Dame-de Paris Cathedral in Paris after a fire that devastated the building. Photo: Christophe Petit Tesson/POOL/AFP/ Getty Images.

A new tourist-centric proposal to renovate the interior of the Notre-Dame Cathedral has rankled some in France, who say the plan would “Disneyify” the gothic structure, which was ravaged by a fire in 2019.

According to a report from the Daily Telegraph, the proposed changes would see the creation of a “discovery trail” inside the medieval building, where the story of the Bible would be told in different languages across a series of chapels, each dedicated to a different international culture. The last stop on the tour would have a “strong environmental emphasis,” according to the plan.

Meanwhile, altars, classical sculptures, and confessional boxes would be replaced with modern murals and sound and light installations meant to take visitors “from the darkness to the light.”

The idea, said Christian Rousselot, the director-general of the Notre-Dame Foundation, is to “provide the keys to half the planet that doesn’t know what a cathedral is.”

“This trail going from North to South from the shadow to the light will depict the major moments of the Bible to explain in the most intelligible to common mortals, whether Chinese or Swedish, what it all means,” Rousselot told the Telegraph.

“Foreign visitors see signs and magnificent paintings but don’t understand a thing. Images and sculptures and paintings count but so do words. So there are plans to project on certain words and expressions in Mandarin, French or Spanish, and English.”

Rope technicians working to remove Notre Dame scaffolding in June 2020. Photo ©C2RMF/Alexis Komenda, courtesy of Friends of Notre Dame.

Rope technicians working to remove Notre Dame scaffolding in June 2020. Photo ©C2RMF/Alexis Komenda, courtesy of Friends of Notre Dame.

The proposal was presented by Father Gilles Drouin in May during an online conference for the general secretariat of Catholic education in France. Soon thereafter, it was backed by Michel Aupetit, the Archbishop of Paris, who in June praised the plan for bringing the “cathedral into the 21st century while preserving its own identity in the spirit of the Christian tradition.” (Aupetit selected Drouin to design the space.)

However, since being leaked, the renovation concept has roused numerous critics. (The Telegraph, a conservative newspaper, denounced the idea, calling it a “woke” revamp with a “Christianity for dummies” trail.) 

“It’s Notre Dame de Paris turned into Disneyland. It does not make any sense,” Maurice Culot, a Paris-based architect and theorist told the Art Newspaper. “How could a priest choose, on his own, the interior decoration of a cathedral that belongs to the universal heritage of humanity and is being rebuilt with donations coming from all over the world?”

Drouin’s plan will be presented before France’s National Heritage and Architecture Commission at a meeting on December 9.

While the future of Notre Dame’s interior remains up in the air, reconstruction on the 850-year-old Gothic structure’s exterior is now underway, and it’s proceeding under a more conventional plan.

Despite previously announcing an international architectural competition to redesign Notre Dame’s spire, French President Emmanuel Macron confirmed last year that the famous feature would be restored to its original state

This fall, the task force charged with restoring the cathedral confirmed that it was on track to finish the project by spring 2024, just in time for the 2024 Summer Olympics in Paris. 

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