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Notre Dame must be restored to original state, says French Senate

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An April fire severely damaged the historic landmark

View of damaged Notre Dame cathedral.
View of damaged Notre Dame Cathedral.
Shutterstock

Since the devastating fire that destroyed sections of the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, France, on April 15, we’ve seen a plethora of proposed redesigns, some of which include a glassy spire, a tree-filled roof, and a cross-shaped rooftop pool. Earlier this week, however, the French Senate stipulated that the historic church must be restored to the state it was before the blaze.

The rebuilding of the cathedral has become a lighting-rod issue in France, a battleground between traditionalists who want the church to be restored exactly as it was and those who advocate a more innovative restoration.

It’s important to note that the architecture of Notre Dame has evolved over time; the spire that collapsed on April 15 was not an original component of the 12th-century design. Along with the gargoyles immortalized in Victor Hugo’s famous novel, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, the Gothic revival spire was added in the 19th-century by architect Eugène Viollet-le-Duc.

That the cathedral would be rebuilt seemed without question, as French President Emmanuel Macron promised to rebuild even as the flames were being stamped out. The president’s timeline, however, sparked controversy, as some called the goal of 2024—when Paris hosts the Olympics—a political ploy that was far too ambitious to do the work properly.

When France’s Prime Minister Édouard Philippe said he would launch an international architectural competition to reconstruct the spire, Macron added that he would not be opposed to a “contemporary architectural gesture” that modernized the cathedral. But opponents—mainly on the political right—have bristled at a modern makeover for the historic landmark, responding to Macron with the hashtag #Don’tTouchNotreDame. Paris’s Socialist mayor Anne Hidalgo has expressed favor for an identical restoration.

Now, it looks like a more traditional vision for the rebuilding has won out. On Monday, the French Senate approved a bill, created and already approved by the National Assembly, that would allow Notre Dame to be restored before Paris hosts the 2024 Summer Olympics. However, the Senate added a clause stipulating that the landmark must be restored to “its last known visual state,” and removed a clause that would have given the government the power to override planning regulations. Finally, the bill proposes the creation of a new agency under the Ministry of Culture to oversee the project.

These changes mean that the bill cannot pass directly into law, so now the Senate and the National Assembly will have to determine and agree to a version of the bill that will become law. Stay tuned.