In a recent turn of events, France is abuzz with controversy as a suggestion to introduce modern art into a historic cathedral has sparked widespread disagreement. This contentious proposal, which has attracted over 125,000 signatures in opposition, suggests replacing 19th-century chapel windows, originally designed by the renowned architect Eugène Viollet-le-Duc, with contemporary stained glass creations.
These windows, which remarkably withstood a devastating fire in 2019 that heavily damaged the church, including its roof and notable spire, are now at the center of a national debate. The French President, on December 8, proposed relocating these windows to a new museum that will showcase the cathedral's restoration journey. He also invited local artists to present modern designs for new windows in several chapels.
The backlash was swift, with a petition emerging online just two days following this announcement. Critics are questioning the rationale behind removing the original, unharmed stained glass and are challenging the authority of the President in making such decisions for a cathedral that holds significance for many.
The petition, as reported by a major art publication, argues against the President's intention to imprint a 21st-century mark on the cathedral, suggesting instead a more modest approach. It also reminds of the fire's impact, which destroyed a significant portion of the roof but left the iconic towers intact, while causing irreparable damage to the spire.
Following immense donations for restoration, work began in earnest in 2022, with efforts largely focused on remaining true to Viollet-le-Duc's original vision. This included using medieval techniques to treat and cut oak beams for the roof reconstruction. However, public outcry previously led to the abandonment of a plan to modernize the 19th-century spire.
As the cathedral still shows signs of the disaster, the anticipation grows as the roof and spire are expected to be restored in time for the influx of visitors for the upcoming Summer Olympics in Paris.