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Notre-Dame priest denies redesign of French cathedral is too radical

The world watched in awe as Paris' Notre-Dame burned in 2019. The priest in charge of redesigning its interior has deflected accusations that the cathedral is being turned into a 'politically correct Disneyland'.

The redesigned interior of Paris' Notre-Dame cathedral will likely include banners in Mandarin and soft mood lighting. The priest in charge has defended the proposed changes.
The redesigned interior of Paris' Notre-Dame cathedral will likely include banners in Mandarin and soft mood lighting. The priest in charge has defended the proposed changes. (Photo by Christophe ARCHAMBAULT / AFP)

Plans to replace the gothic ambience of Notre Dame cathedral with a softer vibe of modern art and warm lighting have raised a few eyebrows, but the priest in charge denies any radical transformation is afoot.

With the cathedral set to reopen in 2024 — five years after a fire devastated much of its roof and spire — church authorities are putting forward new plans on December 9 for how the public will experience the iconic Parisian landmark.

They include Bible quotes to be projected in multiple languages on the walls and new art installations in place of its little used 19th century confessionals, said Father Gilles Drouin, who is charged with reworking the interior, in an interview with AFP.

READ ALSO Notre-Dame restoration work begins as Paris cathedral on track to reopen in 2024

Gone would be the traditional straw chairs, to be replaced by more comfortable benches with their own little lamps to brighten the gloom — perhaps even able to disappear into the floor when not in use to leave more room for tourists.

Rather than lighting cast down from its cavernous ceiling, there will be “softer lights at head height” to give a more intimate feel to the 2,400 masses and 150 concerts held annually.

The National Heritage and Architecture Commission will hear the detailed plans next week, but already some conservative hackles have been raised.

Britain’s Spectator magazine warned of a “politically correct Disneyland” that would be full of “emotional spaces” and cosmopolitan “discovery trails”.

Drouin denied the plans were radical, however. He said the objective was to preserve Notre-Dame as a religious place that can better welcome and inform the public “who are not always from a Christian culture”.

“Chinese visitors may not necessarily understand the Nativity,” he said.

The lesson from the cathedral’s existing chapel dedicated to 19th century Chinese martyr Saint-Paul Tchen is that visitors from that country will stop and light candles because there are banners in Mandarin, he added.

One major change for visitors will be that they enter from the large central door, rather than the side entrances. The altar will remain in place but other items such as the tabernacle and baptistery will be rejigged, while most of the confessionals will move to the first floor, leaving only four in the main section.

Side chapels, which were in a “terrible state” even before the fire, will be entirely renovated with a focus on artworks including “portraits from the 16th and 18th century that will be in dialogue with modern art objects.”

He said this would include a “cycle of tapestries”, without giving details. “The cathedral has always been open to art from the contemporary period, right up to the large golden cross by sculptor Marc Couturier installed by Cardinal Lustiger in 1994,” he said.

Notre-Dame cathedral dates back to the 12th century. It was largely adapted in the late 1800s by architect Viollet-le-Duc, though in keeping with the Gothic style that was having a renaissance at the time.

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CULTURE

French plan to rebuild William the Conqueror’s flagship for €20m

The last one was used to lead a successful French invasion of England - but a project to build a replica of William the Conqueror's flagship is purely for historical interest. They say.

French plan to rebuild William the Conqueror’s flagship for €20m

A historical association in the Norman coastal town of Honfleur has set itself the task of recreating the vessel William the Conqueror crossed the Channel in for his invasion of England in 1066.

The build is part of a €20 million project merging historical study and tourism that they hope will attract 200,000 visitors in the pretty coastal resort.

Although no contemporary plans of the ship exist, experts believe they know exactly what the ship, called La Mora, looked like. 

“The aim is to reconstruct as faithfully as possible this Viking-type warship, with its slender profile, which could sail up rivers and run aground on the shore. This 34m long oak ship will have to be able to carry 70 crew members, including 60 rowers. It will also have a square sail rig of 150 square metres,” naval architect Marc Ronet said.

“This is a technical challenge as complex as it is exciting. Our marine carpenters will have to relearn the techniques and work practices of the 11th century,” Olivier Pagezy, president of the La Mora association, added.

“And once the project is completed, the Mora, which should be ready to sail by 2027, will have to find new ways of working. We will have to find technical solutions very quickly to meet current safety regulations.” 

Pagezy is no stranger to naval challenges, having previously coordinated work on the Hermione, the replica of La Fayette’s ship.

As with the Hermione, at Rochefort in the Charente-Maritime, the intention is to make the construction work part of a living history exhibit – organisers expect 200,000 people a year will visit the project. A huge disused industrial site near the quays of Honfleur should be cleared by the end of the year to house the project.

The reconstruction of La Mora will be accompanied by an ambitious exhibition of the maritime history of Normandy.

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