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Not knowing the circumstances surrounding the inferno at Notre-Dame in Paris is bad enough.

Now lovers of the mediaeval cathedral, the French capital’s monumental house of worship, wonder what is meant by the words ‘restoration’ and ‘rebuilding’.

Does the French government consider the two words to be the same as the average person who treasures what was lost? What about expert architects? What about building contractors?

This was what the cathedral looked like at the end of the day on Wednesday, April 24, 2019. Protective coverings were placed over the vulnerable parts of the structure:

One week later, on Tuesday, April 30, Paris police released aerial footage of the protective sheet covering the cathedral’s massive roof from a drone’s eye view:

That day, Le Huffington Post reported findings of a YouGov poll they commissioned in France which showed that 54 per cent of people want a restoration ‘identical to the original’. Only 25 per cent support President Macron and Prime Minister Philippe’s plan for an ‘architectural gesture’:

Twenty-one percent of the people surveyed were undecided.

The more conservative the participant, the greater the desire for a full, authentic restoration: from 66 per cent to 69 per cent, depending on political orientation.

A design firm from Lyon, NAB, released its plans for a greenhouse roof garden and spire containing beehives unlikely to please those who love the original structure with its dramatic vaults. Le Huffington Post published NAB’s shocking images on April 26. Have a chair nearby, because you’ll need a sit down and a cuppa after seeing them.

That same day, Le HuffPo released a short video wherein an architect, a historian, an urban design expert and a sociologist gave their opinions of the current buzz by government officials, architects and building firms about the cathedral’s reconstruction. Interviewed separately, they said the same things. The project seemed to be politically motivated, with an objective of proposed plans devised too hastily involving companies eager to make money at the expense of France’s — and the world’s — heritage. One said that the stone needs at least a year to dry out thoroughly, therefore, completing the reconstruction in five years’ time was a nonsense:

Those hoping to be part of Prime Minister Philippe’s working group on the way forward for Notre-Dame will need to take UNESCO’s perspective on board, too. Fortunately, UNESCO agrees with the French public with whom YouGov spoke:

The Art Newspaper‘s editorial begins with this (emphases mine):

The 28 April appeal by over 1000 academics, restorers and architects for an extension to President Macron’s five-year deadline for the restoration of Notre Dame can find comfort in the the cathedral’s status as a Unesco World Heritage site, because the guidelines on how to approach restoring such a great monument already exist.

They are implicit in the conditions accepted by France when Notre-Dame was inscribed on the World Heritage List in 1991 as part of a grouping that includes the great buildings along the Seine from the Pont de Sully to the Pont de Bir-Hakeim.

First and foremost, Notre Dame’s World Heritage status calls for international principles of restoration to be integrated into the discussions on how to restore it. Decisions will have to be taken on how to consolidate its structural parts, restore the damaged surfaces, reconstruct the roof, the spire and the stained-glass windows. All these choices need to be made in accordance with the conservation principles promoted by the World Heritage Convention and expressed in the Conservation Charters of the International Council on Museums and Sites (Icomos). While the international documents, starting with the 1964 Venice Charter, do not bear legal value per se, they are recognised by the French Codes as the basis for decisions on the conservation and reconstruction of historical monuments.

So far, so good.

The editorial goes on to say that this does not preclude using modern technologies and techniques to achieve a more ‘resilient and secure’ result. These would not affect what a visitor or regular worshipper sees, however:

The “contemporaneity” of this gesture will lie in its in its construction techniques and monitoring technologies, rather than the visible forms of the building.

But — and it’s a big ‘but’ — more modern stained glass might be part of the renovation and restoration:

if new windows are needed, it could be a great opportunity for contemporary artists, as with the designs of Marc Chagall and Imi Knoebel for Reims cathedral.

UGH. No, just no. Those modern stained glass designs are horrible, and I’ve viewed a number of them in European cathedrals from the 1970s to the present.

So, although that is just one man’s opinion, he happens to be Francesco Bandarin:

an architect and former senior official at Unesco, director of its World Heritage Centre (2000-2010) and assistant director-general for culture (2010-2018).

I do think a lot of French people will be upset if Notre-Dame is not restored to the original design. Admittedly, the following discussion took place on Holy Thursday, three days after the fire, when emotions were running high. From RMC’s Les Grandes Gueules:

One of the panellists, a young Protestant, said she wanted the cathedral restored to the original. She put forward her case with passion:

She said that she was quite conservative when it comes to restoring historic buildings because they are testaments to their respective eras:

Traditionalists could find 21st century help a boon to their cause.

In 2015, Andrew Tallon, an architectural historian, had the foresight to capture the complete design of Notre-Dame digitally:

As for the actual building work, BFMTV’s high-tech expert Anthony Morel said that the use of 3D design enabled one monument in Egypt to be rebuilt to the original, down to the smallest detail. He says the same can be done with Notre-Dame. This is a great little video. Just watch the pictures:

As for recreating the Forest — the oak roof — offers have been coming in from around the world from owners of large estates with old oak forests who are willing to cut down trees a few hundred years old and replant new ones.

So, although one of France’s heritage experts said on April 16 that rebuilding the Forest cannot be done

Bertrand de Feydeau, vice-president of Fondation du Patrimoine, said the cathedral’s roof cannot be rebuilt exactly as it was before the fire because “we don’t, at the moment, have trees on our territory of the size that were cut in the 13th century.”

… do a search online for offers of oak donations and there are many news articles to read, including this one from England’s Nottingham Post on April 19:

The Duke of Rutland has pledged to send ancient oak trees from the Belvoir Castle estate to France to help with the rebuilding of Notre-Dame following a devastating fire.

The historic cathedral in Paris was hit by fire on April 15, causing huge damage to the building, large parts of which were made from wood.

Donations have been pouring in from around the world to help with the project, and British estates and gardens have also got in on the act.

Around 100 historic homes have pledged to donate oak trees which were planted hundreds of years ago to be used for timber, including the Duke of Rutland, who owns Belvoir Castle.

He said: “Anyone who lives in an old building knows there’s something special about the way it was built and the materials used.

“The trees in the original roof at Notre-Dame probably started growing over a thousand years ago.

“We’re able to donate replacements because my great-great-grandfather had the foresight to plant trees that would only be valuable long after he died.

“And in turn we’ll replant every tree we fell – someone will need them for something in another few hundred years …

Belvoir Castle itself has been destroyed by fire, last being rebuilt in 1832.

It is a member of Historic Houses, an association for independently owned historic homes and gardens in Britain.

It was the Duke of Rutland who suggested to the members they should donate oaks towards the rebuilding of Notre-Dame.

And even though they will only be able to donate a fraction of what is needed, they hope it will inspire others to do the same.

There is hope. People WANT to help — and ARE helping!

Let us continue to pray for the proper and full restoration of Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris.

My next post will look at Notre-Dame from the perspective of the positive influence of aesthetics on the meaningful religious experience.

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