Redesign of France’s most famous cathedral up for vote

Paris' Notre Dame cathedral was badly damaged in a fire in 2019. Plans to redesign the interior have proved controversial.
Paris' Notre Dame cathedral was badly damaged in a fire in 2019. Plans to redesign the interior have proved controversial. (Photo by BERTRAND GUAY / AFP)
Critics have said that the proposed redesign of the interior of Paris' Notre Dame cathedral, which includes mood lighting and street art, would turn it into a "Disneyland".

A controversial redesign of the interior of Notre-Dame cathedral in Paris — including possible street art installations and softer mood lighting — will be considered by heritage authorities on Thursday.

Church authorities are adamant the plans — part of a wider rebuilding project following a devastating fire in 2019 — are not revolutionary and will simply offer visitors a warmer welcome.

But the prospective changes have already sparked criticism, with around 100 public figures putting their names to an opinion piece in right-wing newspaper Le Figaro on Wednesday saying they “entirely undermine the decor and religious space” of the Gothic landmark.

Twenty experts are meeting on Thursday at the National Heritage and Architecture Commission to hear the presentation by the church authorities, with a vote due later in the day.

There was worldwide shock over the fire of April 15, 2019 that destroyed much of the roof and spire of Notre-Dame, which is visited by some 12 million people a year.

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The diocese is taking the opportunity to rework the interior ahead of its planned reopening in 2024.

The culture ministry confirmed to AFP that street art pioneer Ernest Pignon-Ernest, as well as other modern artists such as Anselm Kiefer and Louise Bourgeois, are among the names being considered for display when new art installations replace some of the little-used 19th-century confessionals.

 “Disneyland”?

Other ideas include Bible quotes to be projected in multiple languages on the walls and softer lighting.

One Paris-based architect told The Art Newspaper that this risked turning Notre-Dame “into Disneyland”.

Those concerns were knocked back by Father Gilles Drouin, who is in charge of the interior renovation and told AFP last week that there was nothing radical in the plans.

“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.

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 centuries that will be in dialogue with modern art objects,” Drouin told AFP.

Critics in Le Figaro called for the authorities to respect the work of Viollet-le-Duc, the architect who overhauled the 12th-century cathedral in the late 1800s, though in keeping with the Gothic style that was enjoying a renaissance at the time.

The heritage commission will look at whether the plans are legal and, for certain choices, “reversible”, according to its presiding senator Alberic de Montgolfier.


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