Restoration of the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris continues as the country pushes to have the cathedral ready to reopen in December 2024. Philippe Jost of Rebuilding Notre Dame de Paris, the body responsible for the restoration, told the French parliament that visitors to France for the 2024 Olympic games will be pleasantly surprised by the progress. “By the time the Olympic Games come around, we expect to have un-scaffolded the upper part of the spire and completed most of the roofing, so that Parisians and visitors from all over the world can see just how close the cathedral is to reopening,” he said. Along with the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame Cathedral is one of the most iconic structures of the French landscape. Built between 1163 to 1345, it is one of the oldest buildings in Paris. A fire in 2019 caused such extensive damage to the cathedral that its iconic spire collapsed, damaging the roof. A cause has never been determined for the fire, although arson was ruled out.

The restoration has not been without its hitches, however. Earlier in December, while visiting the site, French President Emmanuel Macron stated his approval for a some modern touches to be included in the restoration and that the current century would “have its place among the many others that feature in the works of this cathedral.” He announced that six of the seven stained glass windows, which had been untouched by the fire, would be removed and placed in a newly created Notre Dame Museum. A competition would determine the design of the new windows. The suggestion has inspired outrage, with La Tribune de l’Art editor Didier Rykner starting a petition against the change. The windows originate from the mid-19th century and were designed by Viollet-le-Ducvollet. “Viollet-le-Duc’s stained-glass windows were created as a coherent whole. It is a genuine creation that the architect wanted to be faithful to the cathedral’s Gothic origins. The president of the republic has decided on his own, without any regard for the heritage law or Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris,” wrote Rykner. “What sense does it make to restore the cathedral to its last known historical state (before 15 April 2019), that of Viollet-le-Duc, only to deprive the building of an essential element that Viollet-le-Duc wanted? How can it be justified to restore stained glass windows that survived the disaster and then immediately remove them?” he asked. “Who gave the Head of State a mandate to alter a cathedral that does not belong to him, but to everyone? Contemporary stained-glass windows have their place in old architecture when the original ones have disappeared. They are not intended to replace works that already exist.” He also pointed out that the restoration had received millions of donations from the public who had wanted to see the Cathedral restored. “Do we really believe that they will accept that its restoration be altered by Emmanuel Macron’s desire to leave his mark on it?”

Macron had previously suggested changes be made to the Cathedral’s spire to make it “inventive.” The backlash against the suggestion was so strong, Macron reversed the decision. The spire has been rebuilt and held up by scaffolding, with an identical design to the original spire. A rooster which originally adorned the spire was found damaged after the fire and will be placed in the new museum. An identical one has been created, bearing the relics of Saint Denis and Saint Geneviève, as well as a fragment of Christ’s crown of thorns that had been in the original rooster. Macron has not yet said whether he will follow through with his desire to replace the windows, but to-date the petition has gained over 125,000 signatures.

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