Critics seeing red over ‘contemporary’ stained-glass panes for Notre Dame rebuild

French President Emmanuel Macron reiterated this week his promise to reopen the famous Notre Dame in one year, but he enraged some when he announced he would put contemporary stained-glass windows in the rebuilt cathedral. 

“I fully support [the idea],” Macron said. “The century that is ours will have its place among several others featuring in the works of this cathedral.”

“Deadlines will be met. It is a formidable image of hope and of a France that has rebuilt itself,” Macron said last week. “This is an important and emotional moment,” he added as he spoke with restoration workers on the scaffolding.

Some critics have argued that replacing stained-glass windows with contemporary works could negatively impact the historical atmosphere and “distort the overall harmony” of the cathedral. 

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The outlet European Conservative lamented the fact that the diocese – rather than the French state – is pushing for modern touches as the French government pursues the reconstruction of the cathedral. 

The Paris landmark suffered a devastating fire on April 15, 2019, resulting in the collapse of the cathedral’s spire and roof, with damage to some works of art and relics. Firefighters and emergency responders formed a human chain to protect the most precious artifacts, including the Crown of Thorns alleged to have been worn by Jesus during his crucifixion, Time reported. 

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French lawmakers quickly voted to restore the cathedral but faced a difficult question over whether to focus on a faithful restoration or add some modern touches. The project will create a completely identical reproduction of the spire, but the Archbishop of Paris has taken a more progressive view on other aspects. 

Macron in 2020 proposed adding “the mark of the 21st century” to the building, but lawmakers rebuffed his effort. The culture minister at the time cited the Venice Convention to defend the current stained-glass windows. 

The Archbishop Monsignor Laurent Ulrich requested a contemporary look for the rebuilt cathedral, with a competition to determine the pieces to include in the cathedral, The Times UK reported. 

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Artists will compete to fill one of six windows with “figurative” designs that will replace existing windows in the chapels on the south side of the nave. The cathedral has 120 stained-glass windows, with the earliest one dating from the 13th century and the most recent addition made in 1965. 

Macron’s supporters argue that the periodic additions and repairs to the building indicate that the structure and its possessions continue to evolve.

The building underwent a renovation after Victor Hugo’s famous novel “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” highlighted the cathedral’s state of disrepair. 

Reuters contributed to this report. 

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