While a year has passed since the fire that ravaged Notre-Dame de Paris, on the night of April 15 to 16, 2019, the future of the cathedral is still up in the air: promises from the head of the State, to the paralysis of work caused by the coronavirus epidemic, to the debate on reconstruction projects.
“Nostre-Dame is also a kind of adverb of admiration”, underlined, in 1694, the illustrious Dictionary of the French Academy: proof that the emblematic cathedral of Paris has become, over the centuries, an allegory of French destiny.
So, when on the evening of April 15, 2019, cameras from around the world pointed at the imposing structure transformed into a burning brazier, it was a notable part of France that everyone thought they saw go up in smoke.
A year later, as the coronavirus pandemic confines almost half of humanity, the future of the cathedral is more than ever in suspense.
On the investigation side, the prosecution puts forward the thesis of the accident: “we never exclude anything in an investigation, but what we can say is that today there is no new element which would accredit a criminal hypothesis”, declared the prosecutor Rémy Heitz in February. 11, 2020.
On the side of reconstruction – estimated at five years by the Head of State – the debate can be summed up by the split between the supporters of an identical reconstruction, and those who, in the name of modernity, propose a ” reinterpretation” which claims to be artistic, of the roof and the spire.
This opposition is embodied by men. In mid-October 2019, Philippe Villeneuve, former chief architect of historic monuments, now in charge of the restoration of the cathedral, declared on RTL: “the future is either I restore it exactly as it was, and that is my choice, or we make a contemporary arrow, and it will be someone else’s.
A position little appreciated by General Jean-Louis Georgelin, appointed by the Elysée to oversee the various aspects of the imposing reconstruction project. He replied to Philippe Villeneuve a month later, hoping “that he be silent (sic) and that we move forward in wisdom so that we can calmly make the best choice”.
Will this choice be informed? Shortly before the general confinement of the country, in February 2020, a member of the delegation of the diocesan commission participating in the project to restore the building, thought it necessary to declare, blissfully, after having visited the premises: “It was a Friday ; the weather was superb; the light passed between the spans. It was enough to make you want to install a glass vault. With such a statement, reported by the newspaper La Croix, there is cause for concern.
Frozen like a stone vessel, the cathedral laughs at the theater playing at its feet, because it still has time ahead of it, if we are to believe the poet’s lines:
“Notre-Dame is very old: we may still see it
Inter Paris, which she saw born;
But, in a few thousand years, like a wolf
Turning an ox into a heavy carcass, time will react
And twist his iron nerves, then with a gnawing tooth,
Eat his old stone bones!
Gerard de Nerval, Notre Dame of ParisOdelettes, 1853.