The Modernist Redesign of Notre Dame Cathedral Is a Retreat From France’s Heritage - The American Spectator | USA News and Politics
The Modernist Redesign of Notre Dame Cathedral Is a Retreat From France’s Heritage

Many churches across Europe resemble museums, attracting more tourists than devout Christians. Those churches symbolize the faded Christian glory of Europe. But at least they preserve the past. That’s far better than what may happen to Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. According to a recent report, plans are underway to rebuild the interior of the burned cathedral as a “politically correct Disneyland,” full of contemporary art and politicized murals. Should those plans succeed, the cathedral will tell us less about Christianity’s past than its confused present.

Artnet News reports that “altars, classical sculptures, and confessional boxes would be replaced with modern murals and sound and light installations meant to take visitors ‘from the darkness to the light.’ The idea, said Christian Rousselot, the director-general of the Notre-Dame Foundation, is to ‘provide the keys to half the planet that doesn’t know what a cathedral is.’”

That, of course, makes no sense. Disfiguring the interior according to modern taste would impede, not advance, the public’s understanding of a venerable Catholic cathedral.

The public has donated hundreds of millions of dollars to the restoration of Notre Dame Cathedral, not to update it but to revive its historically accurate splendor. (READ MORE: It Took Longer to Burn Down Notre Dame Than to Build It)

Writing in the Wall Street Journal, Michael J. Lewis asks: “If the donors to the rebuilding of Notre Dame in Paris had known what is now in store for its interior, would they have been so generous?” He notes that the “fire of April 15, 2019, that destroyed the mighty roof and central spire has inspired what must be the world’s greatest act of collective cultural philanthropy. Over $940 million has already been collected from donors, some 340,000 in all, from all over the world.”

“What animated” these donors, he writes, “was the promise that the cathedral would be re-created, exactly as it was.” Earlier proposals to revamp the cathedral according to modern taste had already met with public outrage, he writes:

Days after the fire Édouard Philippe, then French prime minister, declared that the cathedral would be rebuilt in a way “that bears the mark of our time.” Architects took him at his word: One proposal would have replaced the burned-out roof with an airy greenhouse, another with a municipal swimming pool. But if Photoshopped gags are the mark of our time, they had a positive effect. An outraged public demanded that the destroyed portions of the cathedral be rebuilt just as they were.

Will tourists and pilgrims even bother to visit the cathedral if it just turns into an extension of the modern zeitgeist? That is a surefire way to kill its prestige and significance.

Father Drouin, the director of the liturgical institute of Paris, is spearheading the proposal, saying that it would spark a “fruitful dialogue with contemporary art” and would appeal to visitors who “come for different reasons, most of them from non-Christian or post-Christian cultures.”

Pride in the Church’s past, particularly in secularized European countries, has badly eroded.

Drouin’s eccentric vision has provoked outrage, including among secular art critics. “It’s Notre Dame de Paris turned into Disneyland,” Maurice Culot, an architecture writer in Paris, told the Art Newspaper. “We are rebuilding the cathedral and the spire as it was, with ancient materials like stone, wood and lead, and now we’ll have a theme park for foreign tourists inside. Why wasn’t the design entrusted to the same architects to maintain unity between the inside and outside of the building?”

He added: “How could a priest choose, on his own, the interior decoration of a cathedral that belongs to the universal heritage of humanity and is being rebuilt with donations coming from all over the world?”

Such a proposal would have been unthinkable during other eras of Christianity. But pride in the Church’s past, particularly in secularized European countries, has badly eroded. This controversy is a telling illustration of Christian Europe’s decline and the destructive modernist sensibility among many churchmen, an attitude that has weakened the Church and cut the faithful off from her rich traditions.

It is more important than ever that Europe recover its Christian patrimony. An authentic restoration of Notre Dame Cathedral contributes to that end. The last thing France needs is another post-Christian art center. French authorities say that the restoration of the cathedral should coincide with the 2024 Olympics in Paris and will serve to symbolize the country’s strength. But will it? That remains to be seen. It would be a shame if Notre Dame Cathedral came to represent not a tribute to the country’s glorious heritage but a retreat from it.

George Neumayr
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George Neumayr, a senior editor at The American Spectator, is author most recently of The Biden Deception: Moderate, Opportunist, or the Democrats' Crypto-Socialist?
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