With news of the devastating fire that raged through the Notre Dame Cathedral, thoughts have turned to its restoration and what this process might involve. We talk to a cultural heritage expert for their thoughts.
“It is a devastating loss. This cathedral goes back to the Middle Ages and it has grown and changed over the years. People from around the world travel to Paris to see treasures like the beautiful rose windows,” said Dr Alison Wain, Assistant Professor at the University of Canberra.
The spire, which was totally lost, was only added 200 years ago. A relatively modern addition for the centuries-old building.
“The spire was designed by 19th century architect Viollet-le-Duc who had a very particular restoration philosophy – he thought of himself as recreating the ‘spirit’ of historic buildings rather than restoring them exactly as they had been. This was controversial even at the time. Englishman John Ruskin thought this was tantamount to destroying a building’s history and meaning – and it is a debate that is emerging again as people start to think about rebuilding Notre Dame after the fire.”
What does authenticity mean for a building with nearly 1,000 years of history, given all the changes that have occurred during that time? Alison says that this is a real debate for the future of Notre Dame.
“It will be interesting to watch and see how they approach that because there are different ways to do that. Even the debate 200 years ago between Viollet-le-Duc and John Ruskin was two people expressing very different views on how you should care for a piece of heritage and how you should bring it with you into the future.
“The discussion that is going to happen around Notre Dame will continue that tradition of robust debate about how to bring our culture from the past and make it a part of our present and future. And that will be one of the good things to come out of this.”
One consideration for the restoration of Notre Dame is the incorporation of technology, and perhaps adding things such as safer wiring, or improving accessibility with lifts.
“You could argue that that would be taking away from the medieval aura of it or you could argue that it is making it safer for the future and more accessible for more people who otherwise wouldn’t be able to access it,” said Alison.
“There’s a lot of different ways you could go with it and a lot of different viewpoints that could come into it.”
With French President Emmanuel Macron declaring that the Notre Dame will be rebuilt within five years, and over $1 billion already raised for the project, discussions and debate have possibly already begun, and as Alison says, “While it is very tragic, there is opportunity”.