One Year After Devastating Fire, Debates Continue to Rage on the Future of Notre Dame

Flames and smoke rise from the blaze at Notre Dame Cathedral in central Paris on April 15, 2019. An inferno that raged through the cathedral for more than 12 hours destroyed its spire and its roof but spared its twin medieval bell towers, and a frantic rescue effort saved the monument’s “most precious treasures,” including the crown of thorns purportedly worn by Jesus, officials said. (AP Photo/Thierry Mallet)

One year after the Cathedral of Notre Dame was nearly destroyed by a fire, its future remains uncertain. Prominent voices in France continue to argue about what should happen to the medieval gothic structure once its complex reconstruction is completed.

The citizens of France and the entire world watched with terror as the roof and steeple of the landmark cathedral collapsed from the blaze on April 15, 2019, even as firemen and art experts worked tirelessly to salvage the historic treasures inside.

In the aftermath of the blaze, French President Emanuel Macron promised his people that “The Old Dame” of Paris would be rebuilt in time for the 2024 Summer Olympics hosted by the French capital. The COVID-19 pandemic necessarily put a halt on the efforts in mid-March, but reconstruction is scheduled to resume next Monday (April 27).

Yet Notre Dame remains under fire. Architects and restorers in France cannot agree on the style of the renovations, while historians and prelates debate its soul. Once the debris is removed, the roof rebuilt and the stained glass is cleaned, what will be the purpose of this symbol of France and the Catholic faith?

“What cathedral should be built for the XXI century?” asked Bishop Michel Aupetit of Paris in a reflection recently published in the French Catholic paper La Croix.

“What it is has always been due to the meaning behind its construction: to praise God and the salvation of humanity. If it doesn’t remain faithful to itself, it will lose its soul.”

Aupetit has made the case that, once restored, Notre Dame should remain a place of worship and prayer. He said the cathedral is a “common home” where anyone may find solace in tragedy and gratitude in moments of happiness.

To further make his case, Aupetit celebrated mass in the cathedral on Good Friday, the day commemorating the crucifixion of Jesus and leading up to Easter. During the ceremony, the bishops and a few others respected the safety distancing imposed to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

Notre Dame de Paris Cathedral’s rector Patrick Chauvet, from left, Auxiliary Bishop of Paris Denis Jachiet and Archbishop of Paris Michel Aupetit attend a ceremony to celebrate Good Friday, while violinist Renaud Capucon performs, in a secured part of Notre Dame de Paris Cathedral, Friday, April 10, 2020, in Paris. Although still damaged and scarred by fire, Notre Dame Cathedral has — if only for an instant — come back to life as a center for prayer in a Paris locked down against the coronavirus. (Ludovic Marin, Pool via AP)

Aupetit venerated the crown of thorns, a precious relic for Christians, which was miraculously salvaged from the blaze.

The bishop’s proposal is one of many that have begun to surface for Notre Dame’s next life. The cathedral is a property of the French state, which it shares with the city of Paris and offers to the Catholic Church in perpetuity.

The French architect Jean-Marie Duthilleul has suggested that visitors coming to Notre Dame should have an opportunity to enjoy it without the wooden pews blocking their passage. He has argued that without the seating, visitors could move around more easily and be immersed in the majestic and transcendent art and architecture.

“Notre Dame is a physical experience and you must be able to experience it,” Duthilleul, who has also worked on projects at the Louvre and the cathedral itself, told La Croix.

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Source: Religion News Service