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CULTURE

Notre-Dame priest denies redesign of French cathedral is too radical

The world watched in awe as Paris' Notre-Dame burned in 2019. The priest in charge of redesigning its interior has deflected accusations that the cathedral is being turned into a 'politically correct Disneyland'.

The redesigned interior of Paris' Notre-Dame cathedral will likely include banners in Mandarin and soft mood lighting. The priest in charge has defended the proposed changes.
The redesigned interior of Paris' Notre-Dame cathedral will likely include banners in Mandarin and soft mood lighting. The priest in charge has defended the proposed changes. (Photo by Christophe ARCHAMBAULT / AFP)

Plans to replace the gothic ambience of Notre Dame cathedral with a softer vibe of modern art and warm lighting have raised a few eyebrows, but the priest in charge denies any radical transformation is afoot.

With the cathedral set to reopen in 2024 — five years after a fire devastated much of its roof and spire — church authorities are putting forward new plans on December 9 for how the public will experience the iconic Parisian landmark.

They include Bible quotes to be projected in multiple languages on the walls and new art installations in place of its little used 19th century confessionals, said Father Gilles Drouin, who is charged with reworking the interior, in an interview with AFP.

READ ALSO Notre-Dame restoration work begins as Paris cathedral on track to reopen in 2024

Gone would be the traditional straw chairs, to be replaced by more comfortable benches with their own little lamps to brighten the gloom — perhaps even able to disappear into the floor when not in use to leave more room for tourists.

Rather than lighting cast down from its cavernous ceiling, there will be “softer lights at head height” to give a more intimate feel to the 2,400 masses and 150 concerts held annually.

The National Heritage and Architecture Commission will hear the detailed plans next week, but already some conservative hackles have been raised.

Britain’s Spectator magazine warned of a “politically correct Disneyland” that would be full of “emotional spaces” and cosmopolitan “discovery trails”.

Drouin denied the plans were radical, however. He said the objective was to preserve Notre-Dame as a religious place that can better welcome and inform the public “who are not always from a Christian culture”.

“Chinese visitors may not necessarily understand the Nativity,” he said.

The lesson from the cathedral’s existing chapel dedicated to 19th century Chinese martyr Saint-Paul Tchen is that visitors from that country will stop and light candles because there are banners in Mandarin, he added.

One major change for visitors will be that they enter from the large central door, rather than the side entrances. The altar will remain in place but other items such as the tabernacle and baptistery will be rejigged, while most of the confessionals will move to the first floor, leaving only four in the main section.

Side chapels, which were in a “terrible state” even before the fire, will be entirely renovated with a focus on artworks including “portraits from the 16th and 18th century that will be in dialogue with modern art objects.”

He said this would include a “cycle of tapestries”, without giving details. “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 Cardinal Lustiger in 1994,” he said.

Notre-Dame cathedral dates back to the 12th century. It was largely adapted in the late 1800s by architect Viollet-le-Duc, though in keeping with the Gothic style that was having a renaissance at the time.

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MONEY

Everything you need to know about France’s 2022 summer sales

In France, you can only shop the best deals twice a year - during the soldes. Here is everything you need to know about this year's summer sales.

Everything you need to know about France's 2022 summer sales

They happen twice a year – Each year, France has two soldes periods: one in the winter, usually starting January, and another in the summer, usually starting in June.

This summer, the soldes will start on Wednesday, June 22nd in most parts of France and run for four weeks, so even though you might be tempted to go on the first day, keep in mind they’ll be going on for a while.

They are progressive, so items will be continuously marked down as the soldes wear on. If you wait, you are risking that your favourite t-shirt might sell out quickly, but if you’re lucky it might end up marked down even further.

During 2020 and 2021 the government altered sales dates and time periods to help shops cope with closures and lockdowns, but now we’re back to the usual timetable.

This is the only time stores can have “sales” – Technically, the soldes are the only time that stores are allowed to have sales, but the definition of ‘sale’ is important.

Basically, the French government qualifies a ‘solde‘ as the store selling an item for less than they purchased it for.

During the rest of the year discounting is allowed in certain circumstances, so you might see promotions or vente privée (private sales, usually short-term events aimed at regular customers or loyalty-card holders) throughout the year.

In these situations the stores might be selling items for less than their original price, but they are not permitted to sell the item for less than they bought it for. 

Shops are also permitted to have closing-down sales if they are shutting down, or closing temporarily for refurbishment.

They are strictly regulated by the French government – Everything from how long the soldes go for to the consumer protection rules that apply to the very definition of ‘solde’ is regulated by the French government, and the main purpose of this is to protect small independent businesses which might not be able to offer the same level of discounts as the big chains and multi-national companies.

Whether you shop in person or online, the same rules apply.

As a consumer, you still have the same rights as non-sales times regarding broken or malfunctioning items – meaning you ought to be entitled to a refund if the item has not been expressly indicated as faulty. The French term is vice caché, referring to discovering a defect after purchase.

On top of that, stores must be clear about which items are reduced and which are not – and must display the original price on the label as well as the sale price and percentage discount. 

READ MORE: Your consumer rights for French sales

They started in the 19th century – France’s soldes started in the 19th century, alongside the growth of department stores who had the need to regularly renew their stock – and get rid of leftover items.

Simon Mannoury, who founded the first Parisian department store “Petit Saint-Thomas” in 1830, came up with the idea.

Funnily enough, this department store actually is the ancestor for the famous department store Le Bon Marché. His goal was to sell off the previous season’s unsold stock in order to replace it with new products.

In order to do this, Mannoury offered heavy discounts to sell as much merchandise as possible in a limited time.

The soldes start at different times depending on where you live – The sales start at the same time across most of mainland France, but there are exceptions for overseas France and certain départements, usually those along the border.

France’s finance ministry allows for the sales to start at different times based on local economies and tourist seasons. 

For the summer 2022 sales only two parts of metropolitan France have different dates; Alpes-Maritimes sales run from July 6th to August 2nd, while on the island of Corsica they run from July 13th to August 9th.

In France’s overseas territories the sales are held later in the year.

You might qualify for a tax rebate – If you are resident outside the EU, you might be eligible for a tax rebate on your sales purchases.

If you spend at least €100 in one store, then you qualify. You should hold onto your receipt and tell the cashier you plan to use a tax rebate so they can give you the necessary documentation (a duty-free slip).

Then when you are leaving you can find the kiosk at the station or airport dedicated to tax rebates (détaxe) and file prior to leaving France. For more information read HERE

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