Critics say plans for Notre Dame interior will make cathedral a 'politically correct Disneyland'

Leaked plans to modernise the interior of Paris’ Notre Dame Cathedral have drawn ire this week, with some likening the proposed refit to Disneyland.

The iconic cathedral is currently being meticulously restored after it was ravaged by fire in 2019. The French government is overseeing the cathedral’s structural restoration and conservation, and the cathedral authorities are responsible for its interior.

The plans have not been formally announced but became public when discovered in a video conference from May uploaded to YouTube. In the video, Father Gilles Drouin, director of the Liturgical Institute of Paris and the priest overseeing the interior restoration, provides an overview to the General Secretariat of Catholic education in France.

Last Friday, the British conservative newspaper The Spectator seized upon the video’s revelations.

“Sacré bleu! Plans are afoot to turn Notre Dame cathedral, once it’s restored, into what some have called a ‘politically correct Disneyland’,” declared writer Harry Mount.

“Because people aren’t quite so familiar with the inside of Notre Dame, there is greater wriggle room for the anti-history brigade to prevail,” Mount wrote.

The journalist went on to identify two members of this so-called brigade – Archbishop of Paris Michel Aupetit and Christian Rousselot, the Director General of the Notre Dame Foundation.

“It’s Notre Dame de Paris turned into Disneyland,” Paris-based architect Maurice Culot told The Art Newspaper. “We are rebuilding the cathedral and the spire as it was, with ancient materials like stone, wood and lead, and now we’ll have a theme park for foreign tourists inside.”

Screenshot from the video (linked below) shows plans to modernise Notre Dame’s interior.

So what exactly are these garish plans? Spinning teacups? Bright coloured plastic furniture? Animated images of biblical characters?

Well, not exactly.

The plan is to include contemporary art alongside medieval art and warm lighting set just above head height in the place of some of the cathedrals rarely-used confessionals. Bible verses in multiple languages are also included in the design for the benefit of non-Christian visitors. In addition, portable benches that can be moved to accommodate larger crowds will replace fixed seating.

Father Drouin denies a radical plan is afoot.

“For eight centuries, Notre Dame de Paris has undergone constant evolution and the Church intends to renew the tradition of commissions to living artists,” he told AFP, the French news agency.

Drouin said Notre Dame “was not adapted to cope” with the large crowds of up to 12 million tourists the cathedral received before the fire. Visitors “come for different reasons, most of them from non-Christian or post-Christian cultures”. The priest pointed to the increase in visitors from China to Notre Dame’s chapel dedicated to a Chinese martyr, which followed the installation of explanatory banners in Mandarin.

Criticism of the interior is only the latest hiccup for those undertaking the historic building’s restoration. The project’s timeline has already blown out, and the goal for completion will almost certainly not be met. The rebuild’s completion was initially planned for 16 April 2024 – the fifth anniversary of the fire – with Paris hosting the Olympic Games later that year. However, experts say portions of the church – including the cathedral’s spire – cannot be completed in time.

The plans now need to be submitted to France’s Ministry of Culture for approval.

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