France Approves Controversial Notre-Dame Renovations; Conservatives Call it "Politically Correct"

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tags: architecture, Paris, Catholic Church, Notre Dame

France’s National Heritage and Architecture Commission approved a plan to renovate the interior of the historic Notre-Dame Cathedral on Thursday of last week, reports the Agence France-Presse (AFP).

Put forth by the diocese of Paris, the proposal calls for the modernization of the cathedral’s interior as it rebuilds from a devastating fire, which destroyed much of its roof in April 2019. Advocates argue that the approved plan will make Notre-Dame “even more beautiful and welcoming” for the millions of people who visit the site each year, according to a diocese press release. Critics, however, say that the renovations will reduce the standing of the historical building into a theme park.

“The church is 2,000 years old — it is an old lady,” says Didier Rykner, the editor in chief of art magazine La Tribune de l’Art, reports Constant Méheut for the New York Times.  “It has a history that we must respect, that today’s people cannot erase with a stroke of the pen."

Major changes include the addition of softer mood lighting, hung at head-level, and new light projections, which will shine short Bible quotes in multiple languages onto the cathedral’s walls, per the New York Times.

Visitors will now be able to enter the cathedral through its grand central doors rather than the side entrance as previously directed. The diocese also plans to rearrange altars and other items to free up space for people to move around, per the Times

Per the Times, designers plan to move a group of little-used 19th-century confessionals to the ground floor to create a space for displays of modern and contemporary art. (No decisions about artists have been set in stone, but the names of street artist Ernest Pignon-Ernest, painter Anselm Kiefer and painter-sculptor Louise Bourgeois have been floated by the culture ministry, per the AFP).


Yet the plan has provoked ire from conservative onlookers who argue that the renovations will damage the cultural integrity of the historic building, as Vincent Noce reports for the Art Newspaper. More than 100 academics and public figures signed an open letter against the plan in the conservative French newspaper Le Figaro last week, arguing that the proposal “completely distorts the decor and the liturgical space” of the cathedral. Speaking with conservative British paper the Telegraph, Maurice Culot, a Paris-based architect, complained that its renovations would turn the inside of the cathedral into a “politically correct Disneyland.”

Read entire article at Smithsonian