Notre Dame: What Should Be Done?

In the wake of the tragic burning of the world-famous 800-year-old Notre Dame Cathedral, opinions on what should be done with the building vary greatly. The toppled steeple, destroyed beams, collapsed roof, and general rubble caused by the fire leave the options for renovations wide open. With currently over a billion dollars in restoration funds available, money appears to be no obstacle.

Because resources for this project are abundant, the initial and obvious public response was to rebuild the destroyed parts of the structure as they were or to replicate them as well as possible. Since so many features have survived--like the treasured rose windows and countless other priceless works of art--the cathedral’s integrity and aesthetic can be preserved if the damaged sections can be restored so they are nearly identical to what was lost.

However, the fact that the original building materials are far below the quality available in the modern era leaves officials and engineers to determine whether the structural integrity of Notre Dame requires modern architectural intervention. The limestone that was so integral in sculpting the facade and structure may have been damaged beyond what officials can currently determine. Full investigations will need to be done in order to ensure safety for those in charge of the rebuilding, and for generations to come.

In addition to the decision on whether to rebuild with historically accurate materials, there has been considerable speculation as to whether Notre Dame’s burned parts should be replicated at all. Prime Minister Edouard Philippe announced a competition to redesign the famous spire that collapsed. In the statement that accompanied the announcement, he suggested that simply replacing the 19th-century spire designed by Eugène-Emmanuel Viollet-le-Duc with something identical would not be in the spirit or tradition of Parisian historical culture and would violate the animating principle of the building itself. Such attempts to replicate destroyed or badly damaged parts of old French churches have been unsuccessful in the past, as with the Chartres cathedral. While experts agreed that there was a valid reason to believe renovation without changes was the best option, the public’s opinion of the artistic value of the restoration dropped dramatically, as the attempt was seen as conceited and tasteless.

It is impossible to fully express what “Our Lady of Paris” means to the people of France, let alone the entire world, and especially to Catholics. The combined impact of history,  religion, and national pride guarantees that no resolution will erase the devastating wounds of such a loss. Regardless of how France decides to rebuild this defining feature of her capital, it is undeniable that the renovations will usher in a new era for Notre Dame. President Emmanuel Macron seems hopeful and has said he plans to have the cathedral restored in five years. Until then, the world waits.