Contemporary touches planned for rebuild of Notre Dame Cathedral draw the ire of critics: ‘Abstract crap’

Notre Dame Cathedral is now the target of a literal attempt to “build back better” after French leaders called to add a “mark of the 21st century” with a contest to redesign prominent features.

On Dec. 8, French President Emmanuel Macron visited the restoration effort of the famed cathedral, marking the one-year countdown from the expected completion following the April 2019 fire. It was then that the progressive leader announced plans to include a contemporary twist on the landmark by way of a design contest.

“I fully support [the idea],” Macron told reporters regarding the request from Archbishop of Paris Monsignor Laurent Ulrich who was appointed to the position in 2022 by Pope Francis.

The intent, as detailed by the National Catholic Reporter, is to “replace current non-figurative (abstract) stained-glass windows.” Specifically, six windows representing the Viollet-le-Duc period, named for French architect Eugène Viollet-le-Duc, responsible for the 19th-century restoration of the cathedral and other landmarks, would be relocated to a nearby Notre Dame museum, making way for the replacements.

“The century that is ours will have its place among several others featuring in the works of this cathedral,” said Macron.

With the original aim to have the cathedral reopened in time for the 2024 Olympics in Paris missed due to delays, the president assured about the Dec. 8, 2024 target, “Deadlines will be met. It is a formidable image of hope and of a France that has rebuilt itself.”

During the visit, he scaled the newly reinstalled spire and shared an image of its renewal on X with the caption, it “regains its spire!”

Speaking with the press at the ceremony, Macron said, “Since April 2019, the entire nation has been rebuilding. And it’s very moving to be here a year before. You can see the extraordinary progress of the work on this nave, the choir and the frames and the spire.”

“This is an important and emotional moment,” he added.

Previously, it had been reported that the French Senate had approved a restoration bill shortly after the initial devastation that required the cathedral be returned to its “last known visual state.”

Even then, Macron’s vow to have the structure restored within five years included a promise to leave it “more beautiful than before” with an “inventive” design. At the time, French Prime Minister Édouard Philippe had also called for a design contest and said, “The international competition will allow us to ask the question of whether we should even recreate the spire as it was conceived by Viollet-le-Duc. Or whether, as is often the case during the evolution of heritage, we should endow Notre Dame with a new spire that reflects the techniques and challenges of our era.”

According to one petition vying to have the cathedral restored as it was, “This project undermines the historical integrity of this age-old monument that is the pride of our capital and remains a living testimony to the technical genius and prestigious past of our country. This petition is intended to be apolitical and simply seeks to avoid an artistic massacre that is at risk with this new initiative.”

Another petition which had garnered thousands of signatures stated, “Contrary to what some would have us believe, heritage defenders are not systematically opposed to contemporary art.”

Others weighed in on social media with their distaste for the move.

Kevin Haggerty

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