Earlier this month, the French general tasked with overseeing the restoration of Notre Dame confirmed some terrible news: Even now, nine months after a catastrophic fire in April destroyed the cathedral's spire, roof and some of its vaults, its fate remains uncertain. "The cathedral is still in a state of peril," Jean-Louis Georgelin told the French broadcaster CNews.
There has been renewed anguish in France. The holidays passed without a Christmas Mass in the beloved national icon or a Christmas tree on the public square outside its richly decorated west facade. When I visited in October, I passed by only once, and it was painful to see the great church off-limits. The writer Hilaire Belloc once described Notre Dame as a matriarch whose authority is familiar, tacit and silent. But she now seems not just reticent, but mute.
As the public commission headed by Georgelin met for the first time in December, it was clear that the country was still far from any consensus on how the cathedral will be restored. Weeks earlier, Philippe Villeneuve, chief architect of the country’s historic monuments service, said in a broadcast interview that he would resign rather than allow a modern spire — as proposed by French President Emmanuel Macron — to be built atop the cathedral’s roof. In response, Georgelin told the architect to “shut his gob.”
That comment made international news, although in France it wasn’t out of character for public discussion of architecture and preservation.