(LifeSiteNews) — When the London Telegraph published an exclusive story last Friday about the “woke ‘Disney’ revamp” that is being planned for Notre Dame cathedral in Paris after the destruction of its roof and spire by fire on Monday of the Holy Week of 2019, it came as a complete surprise to most. Incredulity was probably the dominant reaction — however, a few days later, the Telegraph’s story, tragically, appears to be only too true. We hadn’t been paying sufficient attention.
The man who is creating the blueprints for Notre Dame’s makeover, Fr. Gilles Drouin, is a teacher of liturgy and an enthusiastic detractor of the traditional rite for whom Traditionis Custodes, which explicitly wants the demise of the Latin Mass, is a welcome text that “puts an end to an exceptional situation”. His comments on the future refurbishing of the interior space of Notre Dame had already shown that his intent is to remodel the way people “participate” in the liturgy. Of which more later …
The British newspaper’s Paris correspondent, Henry Samuel, did not mince his words when describing the “controversial” plans: Notre Dame’s age-old nave and side-chapels will be turned into an “experimental showroom,” “a politically correct Disneyland.” He quoted the reaction of Maurice Culot, a “prize-winning Paris-based architect, urbanist, theorist and critic who has seen the plans:”
“What they are proposing to do to Notre-Dame would never be done to Westminster Abbey or Saint Peter’s in Rome. It’s a kind of theme park and very childish and trivial given the grandeur of the place.”
The subject of Notre Dame’s restoration has been out of the lime-light since it became clear that despite president Macron’s promise (or rather threat) that elements of contemporary art would be introduced when rebuilding the roof and spire, public pressure, political votes and the vigilance of conservation agencies would prevent modifying the beloved cathedral’s exterior appearance.
It was even decided to rebuild the 800-year-old roof frame in wood, using great oak trees felled in France for that purpose, after research proved that the beams could be used while still “green,” without a protracted drying process, because that was how carpenters had operated in the Middle Ages. France still boasts a body of craftsmen who master the old techniques, and it was with no little pride that many came to the “bedside” of the ailing sanctuary to make it heal.
If the roof and, sadly, the very structure of Notre Dame have suffered much by the awful fire of April 15, 2019, the medieval treasures that adorn its interior were mostly, and perhaps even miraculously saved, from the superb stained-glass windows dating back to the Middle Ages to the high altar, and even the 14th-century statue of the Virgin and Child was intact, although it was situated close the modern altar in the middle of the transept. That unsightly work of art was destroyed when the spire came down, causing the stones of the ceiling to fall on it. But the monumental organ, the side-chapels and the delicate high-reliefs bordering the chancel were all intact.
In principle, therefore, there was no need to “restore” the interior of the cathedral beyond some repairing and cleaning of the mess. But the Archdiocese of Paris, as the religious “allocator” to whom the use of the cathedral (which became a property of the state in 1905 with the Church-State separation law), is legally attributed, had other views.
To what extent would the State approve of the changes? The question is even: Will the diocese and public authorities become complicit in what threatens to be a defacement of a Gothic building that is above all a place of worship? According to the Telegraph, Maurice Culot has confirmed that plans to oust stained-glass windows designed by Notre Dame’s 19th-century restorer, Eugène Viollet-le-Duc, in order to replace a number of damaged panels, have already been rejected. Viollet-le-Duc was always careful, even when having to replace elements that could not be restored, to abide by the style and canons of the original construction.
A completely different scenario threatens to play out in the next two and a half years as restoration is sped up to make good on Macron’s promise to “rebuild within 5 years” and to coincide with the Paris Olympics in 2024. Whether that can be done remains an open question: Architects are faced with more extensive damage to the stone structure than was originally appreciated. But Fr. Gilles Drouin, who was charged by Paris’ archbishop Michel Aupetit with imagining a new interior for Notre Dame, confirmed to the Telegraph last Wednesday that the plans are “more than ever on the table.”
As the director of the Superior Institute of Liturgy, Drouin has one objective in mind: to give to the many millions of tourists who visit Notre Dame each year, many from cultures who have no knowledge at all of Christianity, the possibility to understand the meaning and the symbolism of a Catholic Cathedral, “by decoding its works of art for all, in a way that is both cultural and catechetical, while respecting the beliefs of each person,” as he told the weekly Le Pèlerin in July 2020. He also refused the brilliant ideas of architects who were suggesting that the public should enter the monument from the basement, as is the case in the nearby Louvre. “In a church, everything is symbolic before being functional,” he insisted. “You enter through the main door surmounted by the cross of Christ.”
However encouraging this may have sounded, Drouin’s fertile and very modern imagination led to conceptualizing a sort of “discovery trail” that will lead from the Cathedral’s monumental western main portal from the “darkness to the light,” from the northern side chapels to those on the south side, with modern redecorations intended to teach the world about the history of the Christian faith, the continents and humanity, culminating in Laudato si’, Pope Francis’ environmentalist encyclical.
In fact, Drouin outlined his plans last May in a video conference with representatives of the French Catholic Education body: It was this half-hour talk that was largely quoted by the Telegraph in its article last week at a time when only a few hundred people had actually watched it.
His first remark is worth underscoring: “Ultimately, we have obtained through this drama a freedom that none of our predecessors had, in relation to this space that has evolved a lot for eight centuries now.”
On the surface, the plan could be read as a design to help unbelievers, non-Christians and even Catholics to discover the inherent logic of God’s plan for man’s salvation — and it is true that in the Middle Ages cathedrals were decorated in a way that “taught” the faith. But there are a number of troubling details in Drouin’s presentation of this project, which relies on several separate intents. The first is to transform the nave in a non-traditional way. Second comes the redecorating of the side chapels which will be definitively separated from their original purpose of allowing priests to celebrate private masses, now including modern elements, phrases beamed onto the walls with light and audio animations.
Fr. Drouin explained:
Its identity, I don’t really like this word, is to be the cathedral of the diocese of Paris, but it is open to all, and we know very well that of the people who come, the 12 million visitors, who have many different motivations, well, there are many who are of a non-Christian culture, notably more and more Asians, or post-Christian. There is a kind of tension and paradox between a space that is marked because of what it was made for, and at the same time a very open space, and in fact this is not a paradox and tension at all.
His idea is to be “creating the conditions for an experience,” words one would expect from the mouth of an advertiser or a marketing expert.
It could be a good idea to allow visitors to enter via the main portal, but for the faithful who love Notre Dame, entering by the side portal of Our Lady allowed them to be overwhelmed by the sacredness and the silence of the shadowy nave, while open doors at the foot of the nave marked the triumphant end of solemn celebrations.
Drouin’s idea is different; it involves “entering through the main door: the idea is to be seized by the axiality of the monument.”
In later comments, he added, “We are in a cosmically oriented space, towards the rising sun, and in the center of this space there is the altar which is the foundation stone.”
But the new, central altar is certainly not the foundation stone of Notre Dame.
The jargon continued: “The archbishop asked us to work much more on the dimension of the nave, of the faithful. This space, we are trying to make it into a kind of metaphor of the Christian life centered on the Eucharist, the altar, stretched between its baptismal source — we will put a large baptistery in [middle of] the nave — nourished by the Word of God: There will be an ambo [in front of the altar]. We are acting out the axiality of the Christian life, and, it is a little technical, but there is always an eschatological beyond, we always go further, with the cathedral opening on a beyond, the rising sun. Therefore we will have a tabernacle with a cross of glory. When we opened the doors of Notre Dame, we saw this big golden cross, the one of Marc Couturier, which shone because there were flames falling. It is designed to guide you. When you enter the Cathedral you are drawn towards the elevation … it is a space that sets you in motion. The inhabitation of space, which is quite different from what is usually done, aims to inhabit and underline the qualities and the cosmic insertion of the Notre-Dame cathedral.”
Having an ambo, or a pulpit, in the middle of the nave right in front of the altar does not correspond to any liturgical custom, and in fact puts the readings and the Sacrifice on the same plane.
The renovators also plan to move out at least some of the chairs and kneelers on weekdays, because when Notre Dame was built the faithful stood in the nave. However, they do not intend to add a chancel screen that separated the faithful from the choir and the altar …
But the intent is clearly to make a break with the traditional form of celebration, as Gilles Drouin suggested:
200 years ago there were no seats in the nave. Seats both freeze an assembly and at the same time deprive the assembly of 80 percent of space. This comes from Western modernity, both in the Reformation, which conceived of churches as university halls, and from the Catholic Counter-Reformation, which conceived of them as performance halls.
We can’t remove the seats, but we have planned for movable seats in the first part, which would be removed during the week when there are fewer people at services, to allow visitors to sit down and inhabit this space.
Places for personal devotion, under the liturgy expert’s plan, would be relegated to the rear of the Cathedral, in the larger chapels there, with respectively the tabernacle, a Crucifix, and the Crown of Thorns, “one of the major relics of Christendom” placed in a new reliquary that is being crafted. The medieval statue of Our Lady would remain near the new altar in the transept.
The most spectacular change — that is, if the seats chosen for the nave are not modern, neon-lit affairs as Archbishop Aupetit suggested earlier this year — will be to the side-chapels if Drouin gets his way.
We are going to inhabit these chapels by offering through the voice spaces that articulate cultures. In the north, we will have a deambulation in front of a series of chapels, the “Alley of the promises” which evoke the origins of the history of Salvation: Genesis, the Creation, the Deed of Abraham, the Deed of the Exodus, the Prophets, the Song of Songs and the Writings of Wisdom.
Then come the transept, “the space of immensity” with the medieval north and south stained-glass “Roses”, and the 14th-century high-reliefs of the Incarnation and the Resurrection north and south of the chancel. He said:
There we enter into the heart of the mystery: It is not catechesis in the somewhat overbearing sense of the term, I speak rather of initiation, that is to say that the wager or the presupposition which is ours is to say that in order to enter into the understanding of the cathedral, one cannot do better than if one enters into the understanding of the mystery which underlies the conception of the cathedral …
Crucifix, crown of thorns, and then the Resurrection symmetrical to the aisle of the Incarnation. As you leave the space of immensity you enter that curved, dark space that is the heart of the Christian mystery. In counterpart of St. John the Baptist we would pass to the figure of the Virgin and Child, Notre Dame de Paris, this Virgin who remained intact in the field of ruins on the morning of the fire.
The side-chapels against the south wall of the cathedral are probably the biggest threat from the traditional point of view, even if they aim to reconnect with patterns of the past:
Then, in parallel, in symmetry with the Alley of the Promises, we have what is called the Alley of the Saints, after the heart of the mystery, the community of disciples and the different ways, the different notes, the different tones, of following Christ. First, the intellectual dimension, Faith and reason, in correspondence with the Writings of Wisdom (to the north); this very traditional, it was done in Antiquity and even in the Baroque period. In counterpoint to the Song of Songs, the Mystical Way, in counterpoint to the Prophets, the Way of Charity, the old law and the new law. Then a continental chapel, there was Africa, here is Asia. In counterpoint to the Exodus, Hope and Freedom; in counterpoint to the Promise made to Abraham, the Mission, and in counterpoint to Genesis, Laudato si’ or reconciled creation, that is to say, care of the creation. And we will end with a great painting, a great Magnificat, in a jubilant way.
Here appears the most obvious contradiction to the truth, in which the counterpart of Genesis is no longer the establishment of the “New Jerusalem” at the end of the world, but the summit of environmentalism where “care for the planet” (Mother Earth perhaps) is seen as the ultimate salvation. Placing the Magnificat in this context equates to devaluating its meaning.
The decoration of the chapels as described by Drouin sounded worrisome to art experts, with contemporary art, the projection of biblical phrases and sound effects. But the subtle or not so subtle attacks on traditional liturgy and doctrine seem set to be even more troubling.
Drouin’s further responses to his audience of teachers were also revealing. Excerpts:
It is true that very often in the 16th century with Western modernity we transformed our liturgical spaces into classrooms where a transmitter teaches a receiver, that was the approach of the Reformation, think of the temple of Charenton for example, in Paris; while in Catholicism they are a theatre. I like theater a lot… but it’s true that when you start out from active participation and from the fact that finally all are actors, each one has his role, finally this type of reflection has an affinity with what probably happens in a class. We can see that the layout of the space and the relationship in the space between teachers and students is a resource that has been too often in my opinion unexploited.
I strongly advocate getting out of the auditorium logic, where I’m talking about a television plateau, you have in a church a set where the actors are more or less good, more or less well costumed, and a passive congregation. When the church asks for active participation, it is to move out of this logic. It doesn’t mean leveling, it doesn’t mean that everyone is a teacher and everyone is taught, it means that differentiated interactions really work better … I haven’t thought enough about the modalities … I can assure you that it really a pain in churches because especially with the seating, things have been fixed for two centuries.
The fact of having padlocked the assemblies and of having made them sit, — during a liturgy we move a little, we move during communion and everything — but we have frozen the assemblies. It is true that this course allows for movement. But even the ministers did not move much anymore, they stayed on the stage. We have a corporal deficit and we have cerebralized the liturgy a lot.
What would the liturgy look like in Aupetit’s and Drouin’s “revamped” Cathedral? We can only shudder to think.
But it would be rash not to link Fr. Drouin’s words about Notre Dame with his comments on Traditionis Custodes. He went as far as to say that the new Mass is now the “traditional Mass”:
This text, whose expectations are specified in a letter of accompaniment with an unusually firm tone, can be understood, in a deregulated liberal landscape, as putting an end to a recess whistled in the direction of a part of Catholicism marked by what it considers a “liturgical question”. However, as is often the case in liturgical matters, the stakes of this act are at least as much ecclesiological and doctrinal as they are strictly liturgical. …
By affirming that there is only one expression of the lex orandi of the Roman rite, that contained in the reformed liturgical books promulgated by Paul VI and John Paul II, article 1 of [Traditionis Custodes] has a real doctrinal significance. By putting an end to the distinction between the ordinary and extraordinary forms of the one Roman Rite, expressions introduced by SP which it is no longer possible, in all rigor, to use, [Traditionis Custodes] does not allow what we may call vetus ordo (VO) and novus ordo (NO) to be treated on an equal basis. The expression “traditional Mass” cannot, moreover, in this logic, be applied to the VO, as it is often abused, since it is the NO, the Mass of Paul VI, which is the expression of the living tradition of the Church, promulgated by a solemn act of the Petrine Magisterium, at the request of an ecumenical council.
The man who is aiming to revolutionize the interior of Notre Dame is a modernist ideologue.