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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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CULTURE

Le goûter: The importance of the afternoon snack in France

The French have developed an entire cultural tradition around the idea of an afternoon snack. It's called "Le goûter" and here's what you need to know about it.

Le goûter: The importance of the afternoon snack in France

With all those patisseries and viennoiseries tempting the tastebuds in high street boulangerie after boulangerie, there can be little wonder that France  – which takes food very seriously – has also invented the correct time to eat them.

Let us introduce you to the cultural tradition of le goûter – the noun of the verb “to taste”, and a cultural tradition in France dating back into the 19th century, perhaps even as far back as the Renaissance … allowing for the fact that people have snacked for centuries, whether or not it had a formal name. 

It refers to a very particular snack time, usually at around 4pm daily. This is the good news.

The bad news is that, officially, le goûter is reserved for children. This is why many schools, nurseries and holiday activity centres offer it and offices don’t. The idea is that, because the family evening meal is eaten relatively late, this mid-afternoon snack will keep les enfants from launching fridge raids, or bombarding their parents with shouts of, “j’ai faim!”.

Most adults, with their grown-up iron will-power, are expected to be able to resist temptation in the face of all that pastry, and live on their three set meals per day. Le grignotage – snacking between meals – is frowned on if you’re much older than your washing machine.

But, whisper it quietly, but just about everyone snacks (grignoter), anyway – a baguette that doesn’t have one end nibbled off in the time it takes to travel from boulanger to table isn’t a proper baguette. Besides, why should your children enjoy all the treats? 

We’re not saying ignore the nutritionists, but if you lead an active, reasonably healthy lifestyle, a bite to eat in the middle of the afternoon isn’t going to do any harm. So, if you want to join them, feel free.

What do you give for goûter 

It’s a relatively light snack – we’re not talking afternoon tea here. Think a couple of biscuits, a piece of cake, a pain au chocolat (or chocolatine, for right-thinking people in southwest France), piece of fruit, pain au lait, a croissant, yoghurt, compote, or a slice of bread slathered in Nutella.

Things might get a little more formal if friends and their children are round at the goûter hour – a pre-visit trip to the patisserie may be a good idea if you want to avoid scratching madly through the cupboards and don’t have time to create something tasty and homemade.

Not to be confused with

Une collation – adult snacking becomes socially acceptable when it’s not a snack but part of une collation served, for example, at the end of an event, or at a gathering of some kind. Expect, perhaps, a few small sandwiches with the crusts cut off, a few small pastries, coffee and water.

L’apéro – pre-dinner snacks, often featuring savoury bites such as charcuterie, olives, crisps and a few drinks, including alcoholic ones, as a warm up to the main meal event, or as part of an early evening gathering before people head off to a restaurant or home for their evening meal.

Un en-cas – this is the great adult snacking get-out. Although, in general, snacking for grown-ups is considered bad form, sometimes it has to be done. This is it. Call it un en-cas, pretend you’re too hungry to wait for the next meal, and you’ll probably get away with it.

Le goûter in action

Pour le goûter aujourd’hui, on a eu un gâteau – For snack today, we had some cake.

Veuillez fournir un goûter à votre enfant – Please provide an afternoon snack for your child.

J’ai faim ! Je peux avoir un goûter ? – I’m hungry! Can I have a snack?

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