Harry Mount

Don’t turn Notre Dame into a ‘politically correct Disneyland’

(Photo: Getty)

Sacré bleu! Plans are afoot to turn Notre Dame cathedral, once it’s restored, into what some have called a ‘politically correct Disneyland’.

The plans, yet to be rubber-stamped, will turn the cathedral into an ‘experimental showroom’, with confessional boxes, altars and classical sculptures replaced with modern art murals. New sound and light effects will be introduced to create ‘emotional spaces’. Themed chapels on a ‘discovery trail’, with an emphasis on Africa and Asia, will pop up. And Bible quotations will be projected onto chapel walls in various languages, including Mandarin. The last chapel on the new trail will have an environmental emphasis.

Defenders of the new plan are bound to say that Notre Dame, before the heart-breaking fire of 2019, was already an artifice. The sublime cathedral, begun in 1163, was heavily adapted in a Gothic Revival style in the late nineteenth century by Viollet-le-Duc.

The difference was that Viollet-le-Duc was a highly intelligent, brilliant architect who wanted to adapt the cathedral to fit with its medieval origins. His changes to the cathedral were added in the same spirit in which it was first built: serious, intelligent, medieval.

The changes suggested in these new plans are none of these things. Modern architects and priests rarely have the intellectual, historical understanding that their nineteenth-century predecessors had. If you don’t know much about the past, you can draw only from your scant, contemporary knowledge bank. You are bound to produce something fairly limited if you depend only on that bank, and don’t have the massive, beautiful resources of the past to borrow from.

Modern architects and priests rarely have the intellectual, historical understanding that their nineteenth-century predecessors had

After that horrific 2019 fire, there were some suggestions that the exterior of Notre Dame should be changed to suit a similar, limited understanding of what churches can look like at their most sublime.

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