Don’t turn Notre Dame into ‘politically correct Disneyland’, say renovation critics

Plans for modern art, low lighting and translated Bible tales are not to everyone’s tastes

Lucy Thackray
Tuesday 30 November 2021 12:13 GMT
<p>Notre Dame is in its third year of renovations</p>

Notre Dame is in its third year of renovations

Plans to modernise the visitor experience at Paris’s Notre Dame cathedral have been criticised by traditionalists who fear the monument is set to become a “politically correct Disneyland”.

Though the building is not set to reopen to the public until 2024, plans announced by Paris’s Archbishop and the Canon of Notre Dame to update the tourist experience are already causing furious debate.

The 800-year-old cathedral is being restored after a major fire damaged the building in April 2019.

A team led by the Archbishop of Paris, Michael Aupetit, has proposed a modern, art-installation style interior experience that would involve information projected onto walls in Mandarin, meditation spaces and an “initiation trail” for visitors.

Paris-based architect Maurice Culot voiced his objections to The Telegraph, comparing the modern additions to Disneyland.

“It’s as if Disney were entering Notre Dame,” said Culot, who has seen the renovation plans.

“What they are proposing to do to Notre Dame would never be done to Westminster Abbey or St Peter’s in Rome,” he added.

The Spectator columnist Harry Mount also reached for the US mega-theme-parks in his comparison, calling plans for “emotional spaces” and a “discovery trail” a “politically correct Disneyland”.

However, the cathedral’s Canon, Gilles Drouin, has argued that a modernised visitor trail, with Bible quotes and a religious narrative translated into languages such as Mandarin and Swedish, will open up the monument for tourists “who are not always from a Christian culture” and make it accessible to all.

Speaking to Agence France-Presse, Drouin said: “Chinese visitors may not necessarily understand the Nativity.”

Drouin reassured detractors that the physical restoration will remain true to the building’s 19th-century remodelling by Eugène Viollet-le-Duc, but emphasised that the interior experience should move with the times.

He said officials had learned from past experience that Chinese visitors would stop and light candles in Notre Dame when there were signs with information in Mandarin.

Of the physical changes, Drouin said the new-look interior will see a mix of artistic exhibits, with “portraits from the 16th and 18th century… in dialogue with modern art objects”, as well as “a cycle of tapestries”.

There will be a “discovery path going from north to south, from the shadow to the light”, with key Bible stories translated into multiple languages along the way.

After the reopening, tourists will also enter from the large central door, rather than the side entrances as was the case previously.

The city’s National Heritage and Architecture Commission is set to review the plans next week.

The building famously received more than $1bn (£749.4m) in public donations towards its renovation after video and photos of the fire spread across the globe in 2019.

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