May 3, 2019 (LifeSiteNews) – Of the many initiatives and petitions circulating for the preservation of Notre Dame de Paris “as it was” before the catastrophic fire that devastated the spire and the roof – with its centuries-old wooden frame – of the cathedral of Paris on the Monday of Holy Week, that of “Tradition, Family and Property” (TFP) will perhaps have been the most visible to the ordinary public.
Since Thursday, groups of men, young and old, wearing the characteristic red capes of the TFP, playing bagpipes and bearing red banners with gold lions have been engaging with passers-by in some of the busiest junctions in Paris in order to obtain signatures in favor of a restoration that will truly respect both the spiritual identity and the artistic coherence of the venerable Gothic building.
They will continue their action until May 6th. They also plan to launch international initiatives for the safeguarding of the cathedral which is under a very real threat of over-hasty rebuilding, and, even worse, the introduction of contemporary art in a bid to “modernize” the Parisian landmark.
French president Emmanuel Macron visibly wants to speed up the works in order to have everything ready for the Paris Olympics in 2024. One day after the fire, speaking to the French over national television, he announced that an international architectural competition would be opened for the restoration of the spire. He openly declared that he was hoping a “contemporary art gesture” would find its place in the “reconstruction” of Notre Dame.
This would be contrary to all the rules and regulations, both French and international, that govern the restoration of historic buildings.
How real is the risk? In the face of popular outrage, Audrey Azoulay, director general of UNESCO, has already acknowledged that international conventions require that the “universal value of the site” be safeguarded as well as its “integrity and authenticity,” even though modern techniques and materials are not proscribed.
Critics say, however, that it would be foolhardy to trust in any organization supported by the United Nations. Notre Dame is a historic monument but it is also a symbol, a religious symbol of the glory of Christendom and, as such, it is certainly not in line with modern globalist views.
“Contemporary art” is often an expression of the departure from all classic thought and morality and has amply demonstrated its anti-Christian obsessions. The fact that Emmanuel Macron used this phrase during his first official speech to the French regarding the tragedy that had befallen one of the most well-known and well-loved sanctuaries in France is warning enough.
A draft law for the reconstruction of Notre Dame was adopted on Thursday by the French National Assembly’s legal commission and will be discussed on May 10 by the representatives in order to provide for special tax exemptions for donations in view of the cathedral’s restoration and allow reconstruction to take place without respecting all the pernickety environmental regulations governing all building sites in France. But the amendment proposed by a legislator of the center-right “Republicains” in view of restoring Notre Dame “as it was”, was rejected by the commission members.
A French daily, Le Parisien, published ten photographs of the “craziest” plans to construct a new roof and spire for Notre Dame cathedral as presented by young designers and architects days after the fire. Studio NAB suggested a glass roof and spire that would allow for the creation of a gigantic rooftop greenhouse where the unemployed could learn how to grow vegetables and other greeneries in an “urban garden.”
Others have conceptualized rooftop promenades planted with trees, and the theme of a pyramidal spire is also recurrent, in glass or metal. Not unsurprisingly, these architectural warts would echo the glass pyramid of the Louvre with its openly Masonic symbolism.
Other designers, such as the Vizum Atelier from Slovakia, suggested building an oversized spire reaching to the sky as a simple metal arrow prolonged by an “infinite” laser beam “reaching for the sky.” Brazilian Alexandre Fantozzi from Aj6 studio imagined replacing the destroyed roof and spire with stained window panels to echo the rich medieval coloring of the medieval stained windows that were miraculously preserved during the fire, in order to bathe the nave of the cathedral in light. This would involve breaking down the interior stone structure of the nave ceiling, but apparently he has not thought of that.
Is this all a new variant of the “quarrel of old and new”? Proponents of the new design point out that the spire burnt down by the flames on April 15 was already a “new” construction, built in the 19th century to replace the spire that had been destroyed some years before the French Revolution because it was unstable.
There is a big difference though. In the Gothic revival of the 19th century, architect Viollet-le-Duc saved and restored many Gothic buildings, but not without having a profound knowledge of the tastes, techniques and rules of the medieval cathedral builders. The spire he designed for Notre Dame fully respected, if not the original architecture of the building, at least its style, balance and religious, Christian identity. It was a time in which builders and architects still generally had enough Christian and spiritual background in order to make changes that would not contradict an edifice's profound purpose.
Jean Goyard, spokesman of the TFP, told LifeSite that in the front of the busiest train station in Paris, Saint-Lazare, with over 100 million suburban travelers each year, a majority of passersby visibly approved their action in favor of restoring Notre Dame exactly as it was.
“They were mostly ordinary people, of the middle and working class. I would say 8 out of 10 people we spoke with were emphatically in favor of restoring Notre Dame to its state before the fire. This would probably not be true in the ‘bourgeois-bohême’ population of Paris,” he remarked.
He added that many colored people from the French Antilles and sub-Saharian Africa appeared particularly sensitive to the message concerning the spiritual symbolism of Notre Dame, saying they would not want the building to be changed for something more modern.
The “bohemian bourgeois” are the rich, liberal environmentalists who are about the only people left who can still afford to go and live in the heart of Paris, while middle-class families with children tend to move farther and farther away from the city center. This is why Paris has had left-wing mayors for several decades, including the present incumbent, Anne Hidalgo, who personally decorated the leader of the “Femen” feminist group, Inna Shevchenko, at the Paris town hall two years ago.
But they are a minority.
The TFP's initiative is also one of many, showing the depth of public feeling.
On the professional level, no less than 1,170 curators, architects, professors, and other experts published an op-ed in Le Figaro, in order to remind Emmanuel Macron about laws protecting historic monuments and “providing a framework for action when they have been mutilated by the ravages of time or men.”
They also recall the existence of a code of ethics, which in its latest formulation resides in the Nara Document of 1994, “which provides an internationally recognised framework for interventions on monuments, both for conservation and for partial restoration or reconstruction operations.”
France has a long tradition of state-of-the-art restoration, and the experts also recall that the “exemplary intervention of the fire brigade (…) made it possible to avoid a much worse disaster”, and that actions were taken “that made it possible to urgently consolidate the cathedral and to evacuate most of its movable works within a week.”
Lack of investment on the part of recent governments has compromised the condition of many historic buildings, they noted: “For a long time now, there have been increasing alerts about the glaring inadequacy of these budgets, forcing us to focus on emergency work, such as that taking place in Notre-Dame, rather than on a truly planned approach.”
Even Jean Nouvel, a contemporary architect, disagrees with the modernist “reconstruction” of the roof and spire of Notre Dame, they insisted. Together with him, they told the French president: “Give historians and experts time to make a diagnosis before (you) decide on the future of the monument.”
“We are not addressing you to recommend this or that solution. It's too early. What can we do or not do, what choices will we have? We cannot provide an answer to date. It all depends on technical constraints that depend on the condition of the building. But these choices must also be made with respect for what Notre Dame is: Notre Dame is more than just one cathedral among others, more than one historical monument among others, with a scrupulous, thoughtful approach to ethics. The history of Notre-Dame de Paris has meant that the scale of the fire goes beyond its material consequences. Mr. President, you have stated that you want to restore Notre-Dame. This is what we all want, but to do so, let us not erase the complexity of the thought that must surround this project behind a display of efficiency,” they wrote.
“The complexity of thought” – or “pensée complexe” – to which they alluded was actually a way of poking fun at Emmanuel Macron who once had his spokesman explain that he would not speak to the press about a particular subject because his thought was too complex for the journalists to understand.
To date, a number of actions have been taken in order to preserve the cathedral that was in danger of collapsing under high winds and rain that would retard the drying process and make the stone structures too heavy. Four months will be necessary to consolidate Notre Dame. For the time being, the rooftop has been completely tarped and a more durable “umbrella” will replace it before long to keep the inside of the cathedral free of water.
Days after the fire, beams made to size on the ground were hoisted to the roof with gigantic cranes and have already been installed in order to reinforce the lateral pinions that were no longer resting on the wooden framework of the roof.
The medieval rose windows were protected by mesh nets while the stained glass windows of the choir have been dismounted so that the walls offer less resistance to possible high winds, but also to protect them from theft and fire. Seven master glassmakers immediately made themselves available for this operation.
A number of statues that were damaged during the fire are already being dismounted in view of their restoration.
As of this week, a floor is being built under the top roof. “The stone buttresses of the cathedral are still exerting their natural thrust. We must create a temporary wooden structure, anchored to the walls of the cathedral, that will ensure the solidity and wind resistance of the entire building,” Frédéric Létoffé, co-president of the French professional association of companies restoring historical monuments, told a press conference one week ago.
Burnt debris will be removed as well as the limestone protecting the high vaults of the nave, at which point the true extent of the damage will be assessed.
Parts of the scaffolding around the spire that were not melted by the blaze will be kept in place as it does not represent a threat to the building itself and can be used for the restoration.
As for the debris inside the cathedral, it is being removed by a robot so as not uselessly to endanger workers while the actual extent of the damage is not known.
Those who want Notre Dame to remain as it was are demanding that the spiritual nature of the Cathedral be taken into account. No one said this better than the Archbishop of Paris, Msgr Michel Aupetit, who recalled in his homily for the Chrism Mass on Wednesday of Holy Week:
Our dear cathedral is on its knees. We know that it is much more than a pile of stones. All the reactions from all over the world show this. What is the difference between a pile of stones and a cathedral? It is the same difference as that between a cluster of cells and a human person. A pile of stones and a cluster of cells are just shapeless heaps. In a cathedral or a human person, there is a principle of organization, a principle of unity, a creative intelligence. The other thing that unites the cathedral and the human person is the anointing they are able to receive to manifest a transcendence, a divine presence that gives them a sacred character.
Our Notre-Dame de Paris Cathedral has been anointed. Indeed, during its construction, the altar was chrismed, coated with holy chrism. The altar is the sign of God's mysterious presence, like the one Jacob built after his vision of the angels ascending and descending from heaven. He called this place Bethel, which means the house of God. The altar, in fact, represents the presence of God. The chrismation we make on the altar means the presence of Christ. This is why priests venerate it by embracing it, because it is on the altar that the Holy Sacrifice is realized, made present at each Mass, the Sacrifice that saves men through the gift of love that Christ made once and for all on the cross. It is this Easter journey that we celebrate at every Eucharist: the death and Resurrection of the Lord Jesus.