Rebuilding, or redesigning, at Notre Dame?

For those of us who value art, culture, Christianity, history, pretty much every humanity and liberal art, the biggest fear isn't the fire that devoured the roof of Notre Dame last April 15. It's what they're going to do now. What do France's secular leaders mean when they say they are going to 'rebuild?'

Given that President Emmanuel Macron has put out a global contest for architects to send in their designs for rebuilding, what's obvious from Twitter, at least, is that people are getting the creeps. Get a load of these choice morsels:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here is my very favorite of all the tweets, summing up the whole barfy picture:

 

 

Damn right, most of us want the place simply rebuilt. Normally, you rebuild to attract tourist and visitor income. But Notre Dame doesn't need tourists - it already gets more tourist visits than any place in Europe, and quite possibly the world, with 13 million visitors. As Christians, isn't adding glass cubes and spiky drama more about redesigning than rebuilding? And from a Christian perspective, isn't rebuilding my church what God commanded of St. Francis of Assisi, making him eventually realize it was about more than a building in need of being rebuilt, but the building was to be rebuilt all the same? Aren't there warnings about going into the church for the marketing and glory obvious enough (and I write this as a Catholic) from the Bible itself, in Jesus's temptation on the mount, and in Jesus's Transfiguration -- telling the Apostles to knock it off about building tourist tents?

Rebuilding is what makes sense, partly because it honors the intentions of the great artists of the original masterpiece, and even more so because these original builders were doing it as their collective prayer -- without ego, just eyes to giving glory to God. The building of the cathedral was actually done as a collective prayer, and God was the star of this, not particular indivduals. The cathedral's existence then permeated the entire civilization in the long run. Some ego-tripper wanting to put his stamp on the cathedral in order to make it now 'modern' is just plain disgusting. And this being the storied Notre Dame, which was built to be here for longer than any of us, the one thing you can be sure of is that what is modern now is not going to stay modern. 

Now, I'm a realist about this. There are some things that maybe can't be done. The scholars, for one, don't entirely know all the ways the cathedral has been constructed, so any new reconstruction will need to rely on high technology for a comparable result. And just as difficult, the materials needed are no longer there - France is an old, old, civilization and no longer has the old-growth oaks of the size it needs to create the enormous beams. Some space-travel-grade ultra-fireproof graphite, which will ensure that there never, never, never is another roof fire to worry about, maybe with a veneer of oak to preserve the look, might be one answer. Some practicalities are very likely going to be necessary.

But a remodel is very nasty stuff, and will only make people angry. The house-flipper-style talk of 'opening up' the cathedral through the reconstruction of a glass roof is particularly nauseating. How, exactly, would anyone be able to connect with the Medieval mind that could respect the idea of darkness. How would anyone be able to stand in awe of the rose windows.

Which brings me to my last point. That everyone is out there mocking what they think the architects will cook up is a bad sign for what is considered progress. The shock of the new has worn off and everyone is in on it. The marketing has been going on a long time and people are no longer fooled. When your idea of what is most modern and progressive is reduced to a meme and cliche, you know you've gotten passe. You know you aren't.

That's the biggest reason to proceed with caution on any redesign for ego's sake. There probably will have to be some based on engineering and materials factors. There may be a little via incrementalism - the cathedral has many styles and changes over the years and the spire was a 19th century addition. But a wholesale redesign is revolting. The bad thing is, nobody trusts Macron not to do it.

 

Image credit: LibreShot, public domain

For those of us who value art, culture, Christianity, history, pretty much every humanity and liberal art, the biggest fear isn't the fire that devoured the roof of Notre Dame last April 15. It's what they're going to do now. What do France's secular leaders mean when they say they are going to 'rebuild?'

Given that President Emmanuel Macron has put out a global contest for architects to send in their designs for rebuilding, what's obvious from Twitter, at least, is that people are getting the creeps. Get a load of these choice morsels:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here is my very favorite of all the tweets, summing up the whole barfy picture:

 

 

Damn right, most of us want the place simply rebuilt. Normally, you rebuild to attract tourist and visitor income. But Notre Dame doesn't need tourists - it already gets more tourist visits than any place in Europe, and quite possibly the world, with 13 million visitors. As Christians, isn't adding glass cubes and spiky drama more about redesigning than rebuilding? And from a Christian perspective, isn't rebuilding my church what God commanded of St. Francis of Assisi, making him eventually realize it was about more than a building in need of being rebuilt, but the building was to be rebuilt all the same? Aren't there warnings about going into the church for the marketing and glory obvious enough (and I write this as a Catholic) from the Bible itself, in Jesus's temptation on the mount, and in Jesus's Transfiguration -- telling the Apostles to knock it off about building tourist tents?

Rebuilding is what makes sense, partly because it honors the intentions of the great artists of the original masterpiece, and even more so because these original builders were doing it as their collective prayer -- without ego, just eyes to giving glory to God. The building of the cathedral was actually done as a collective prayer, and God was the star of this, not particular indivduals. The cathedral's existence then permeated the entire civilization in the long run. Some ego-tripper wanting to put his stamp on the cathedral in order to make it now 'modern' is just plain disgusting. And this being the storied Notre Dame, which was built to be here for longer than any of us, the one thing you can be sure of is that what is modern now is not going to stay modern. 

Now, I'm a realist about this. There are some things that maybe can't be done. The scholars, for one, don't entirely know all the ways the cathedral has been constructed, so any new reconstruction will need to rely on high technology for a comparable result. And just as difficult, the materials needed are no longer there - France is an old, old, civilization and no longer has the old-growth oaks of the size it needs to create the enormous beams. Some space-travel-grade ultra-fireproof graphite, which will ensure that there never, never, never is another roof fire to worry about, maybe with a veneer of oak to preserve the look, might be one answer. Some practicalities are very likely going to be necessary.

But a remodel is very nasty stuff, and will only make people angry. The house-flipper-style talk of 'opening up' the cathedral through the reconstruction of a glass roof is particularly nauseating. How, exactly, would anyone be able to connect with the Medieval mind that could respect the idea of darkness. How would anyone be able to stand in awe of the rose windows.

Which brings me to my last point. That everyone is out there mocking what they think the architects will cook up is a bad sign for what is considered progress. The shock of the new has worn off and everyone is in on it. The marketing has been going on a long time and people are no longer fooled. When your idea of what is most modern and progressive is reduced to a meme and cliche, you know you've gotten passe. You know you aren't.

That's the biggest reason to proceed with caution on any redesign for ego's sake. There probably will have to be some based on engineering and materials factors. There may be a little via incrementalism - the cathedral has many styles and changes over the years and the spire was a 19th century addition. But a wholesale redesign is revolting. The bad thing is, nobody trusts Macron not to do it.

 

Image credit: LibreShot, public domain