Catholics sighed with relief when state officials gave in to public pressure and decided to rebuild Notre Dame identically as it was before the tragic 2019 fire. The venerable 850-year old structure is part of the soul of the French nation. Any modernizations are rightly looked upon with suspicion. Ironically, the secular and hostile French government, which controls most Church property, saved it from sacrilegious reconstruction models circulating in the media.
The uproar is now raging anew as strange plans for the interior are surfacing. This time, the proposals come from Church officials and involve areas not touched by the fire. Reports about the new plans claim the medieval cathedral will be turned into a “politically correct” Disneyland or a “woke” theme park. People are praying that the secular state, which must approve any plan, will again step in and save the cathedral’s sacred interior from wreckovating clergy.
Rumors of Emotional Spaces and Environmental Themes
However, a second miracle seems unlikely. Church officials seem bent on imposing their destructive plans for the sacred building. The outer structure will look authentically medieval, but the inside will be patronizing and kitsch.
The Spectator’s Harry Mount leaked the plan in an op-ed piece which said:
“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.”
Nothing Disney About the Renovation
The accusation that Notre Dame is being changed into a politically correct Disneyland is wrong. There is nothing Disney about the changes. Walt Disney took fake medieval castles and tried to make them look real and marvelous. French Church officials are taking an authentic medieval cathedral and transforming it into something it is not. One is a deliberate attempt to make a castle sublime; the other is a sacrilegious effort to make a venerable cathedral ugly and bizarre.
Father Gilles Drouin is overseeing Notre Dame’s updated interior design. He denies accusations that he is planning “radical transformation.” However, the vocabulary he employs to describe the changes is not reassuring. It will be more “diverse” and “accommodating to non-Christians.” There will be more “welcoming sacred space” for visitors. The telltale expressions are a clear indication that something strange is afoot.
The complex and beautiful exterior restoration work is progressing with meticulous care and authenticity. Officials hope to have the cathedral ready by the 2024 Summer Olympics held in Paris. The efforts were bolstered by nearly $1 billion in donations from around the world, especially the United States. Many wonder if the donors would have been so willing to give if they knew what surprises Church officials were planning for the interior.
What to Expect
The proposed changes are not cosmetic. They will take away the sacral nature of the Notre Dame cathedral. Before the fire, there existed an obvious contrast and friction between the hordes of gawking tourists and the solemn prayerful atmosphere. Now, it appears that the cathedral will adapt itself to the tourists and visitors. It will become a gallery of exhibits and learning experiences and no longer a house of prayer and worship.
Thus, the fourteen side chapels (already much neglected by the caretaker French State) will become small galleries highlighting historical periods with older items “dialoguing” with modern art objects. Comfortable benches with special lighting will replace the traditional straw chairs that have long served as pews. Bible verses and other explanations will be projected on the walls in multiple languages turning the hallowed surfaces into movie screens. Softer overhead lights are being introduced to reduce the marvelous space to an atmosphere of “intimacy.”
Other proposals call for funneling everyone through a large central door instead of side entrances. This would facilitate the experiencing of the cathedral as a “catechumenal path” through the exhibits and projections. Most of the confessionals now scattered throughout the nave would be relocated elsewhere. The main altar would remain in place . . . for now.
How Could They Not Know?
Everything that attracts the 12 million annual visitors seems to be targeted—silence, penumbra, solemnity. The plan obviously will not work. It raises an avoidable question about the nature of the renovation: How could they not know what they are doing?
Indeed, this is not a chance renovation of amateurs seeking to modernize one of the world’s most famous churches without realizing its effect. This is a deliberate, painstaking and expensive effort conceived by experts. Everything has been thought out.
Liberal Church officials know very well the tragic consequences of these proposals. Church properties worldwide have been similarly gutted and “wreckovated,” self-despoiling churches of all hallowed sublime. Everywhere it has resulted in the same sterile and childish style that strips structures of their Catholic soul. The attempt to meld the Church and the postmodern world always ends in a metaphysical disaster. These changes favor the views of radical ideologues who envision a “miserablist,” eco-friendly, desacralized Church presided over by Pachamama idols.
Thus, the problem is much more theological than decorative. The new proposals are based on a different vision of God and the Church that radically clashes with the traditional worship for which Notre Dame was built. The cathedral’s interior restoration and decorating must be identical lest this glorious medieval gem be ravaged again, not by fire but by ideological design.
Notre Dame needs a miracle to save it from Church officials. Our Lady saved it the first time. All Catholics must pray and protest that it be saved the second.
John Horvat II is a scholar, researcher, educator, international speaker, and author of the book Return to Order, as well as the author of hundreds of published articles. He lives in Spring Grove, Pennsylvania, where he is the vice president of the American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family and Property.
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