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Proposal for rebuilt Notre-Dame cathedral would give it ‘woke Disney’ feel: critics

‘This is political correctness gone mad,’ a senior source close to the renovation said. ‘They want to turn Notre-Dame into an experimental liturgical showroom’

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Notre Dame cathedral risks resembling a “politically correct Disneyland” under plans for its renovation seen by The Daily Telegraph.

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Critics warned that the cathedral in Paris could be turned into an “experimental showroom.” Under the proposed changes, confessional boxes, altars and sculptures will be replaced with modern art murals, and new sound and light effects to create “emotional spaces.”

There will be themed chapels on a “discovery trail,” with an emphasis on Africa and Asia, while quotes from the Bible will be projected on to walls in various languages, including Mandarin. The final chapel on the trail will have a strong environmental emphasis.

“It’s as if Disney were entering Notre-Dame,” Maurice Culot, a prize-winning Paris-based architect who has seen the plans, said. “What they are proposing to do to Notre-Dame would never be done to Westminster Abbey or St Peter’s in Rome,” he told The Telegraph.

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“This is political correctness gone mad,” a senior source close to the renovation said. “They want to turn Notre-Dame into an experimental liturgical showroom.”

The Gothic cathedral was severely damaged in the blaze on April 16 2019, when images of flames engulfing the roof shocked the world. Some 340,000 donors contributed euros 833 million ($1.2 billion Cdn.) to restoring the edifice.

The parts of the building that were damaged by fire will be restored to their former condition, but areas that were less affected will be changed. Jean-Louis Georgelin, the general who President Macron tasked with rebuilding Notre-Dame, has pledged it will be sufficiently restored to stage a Te Deum on April 16, 2024 – in time for the Olympic Games in Paris.

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Edouard Philippe, Macron’s prime minister at the time, launched a competition after the fire to rebuild the roof and spire, with a modern design “that bears the mark of our time.”

But after widespread uproar, the contest was scrapped and the spire, roof and medieval wooden beams are all to be rebuilt as faithfully as possible to the original design. However, the same cannot be said for the interior. Michel Aupetit, archbishop of Paris, said these would “bring the cathedral into the 21st-century.”

Flames and smoke rise from the blaze as the spire starts to topple on Notre Dame cathedral in Paris, April 15, 2019.
Flames and smoke rise from the blaze as the spire starts to topple on Notre Dame cathedral in Paris, April 15, 2019. Photo by Thierry Mallet/AP,File

Under the proposals, visitors would pass through the main entrance and be shepherded towards 14 themed chapels depicting Genesis, Abraham, Exodus and the Prophets but also the five continents. While Africa and Asia will have pride of place. The tour ends at a chapel dedicated to “reconciled creation,” namely environmentalism as set out in Pope Francis’s Laudato Si’ encyclical.

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The idea, said Drouin, was to teach the 12 million visitors with very little Catholic culture the basics of Christianity and the history of salvation without turning it into “catechism in the heavy sense of the word.”

Christian Rousselot, of the Notre-Dame Foundation, said: “This trail going from north to south from the shadow to the light will depict the major moments of the Bible to explain to common mortals, whether Chinese or Swedish, what it all means.”

The plans include the possibility of storing benches underground using a “goods elevator,” which would require knocking a hole in the 18th century crypt. A proposal to remove the stained glass windows and replace them with modern ones has been ruled out, he confirmed.

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