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: from the promises of the head of the state, to the paralysis of work caused by the coronavirus epidemic, by way of the debate on the rebuilding 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 Paris cathedral has become, over the centuries, a allegory of French destiny.
So, when on the evening of April 15, 2019, cameras around the world were pointed at the imposing framework transformed into a fiery brazier, it was a notable part of France that everyone thought they saw going 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 accident thesis: “we never exclude anything in an investigation, but what we can say is that today there is no new element that would accredit a criminal hypothesis,” declared the prosecutor Rémy Heitz on February 11, 2020.
On the rebuilding side - estimated to last five years by the Head of State - the debate can be summed up as the cleavage between the supporters of an identical reconstruction, and those who, in the name of modernity, propose a “reinterpretation” that 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, said on RTL: “the future is either I restore it exactly as it was, and this is my choice, or we make a contemporary spire, and that will be another’s.”
A position little appreciated by General Jean-Louis Georgelin, appointed by the Elysée Palace to oversee the various aspects of the imposing reconstruction project. He replied to Philippe Villeneuve a month later, hoping “that he shuts his mouth (sic) and that we move forward in wisdom so that we can calmly make the best choice.”
Will this choice be knowledgeable? 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 site: “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 before it, if we believe the poet’s verses:
“Notre Dame is very old: we may perhaps yet see her
Inter Paris, which she saw being born;
But, in a few thousand years, like a wolf
Making an ox a heavy carcass, Time will react
And twist its sinews of iron, and then with a gnawing tooth,
Eat away at its old stone bones!”
Gérard de Nerval, Notre-Dame de Paris, Odelettes, 1853.