Apr 17th 2019

Notre-Dame de Paris: From searing emotion to the future rebirth of a World Heritage Site

by Anne Gombault

 

Professeur de management, directrice du centre de recherche Industries créatives Culture, Kedge Business School

 

 

On the night of April 15, 2019, in Paris, the emotions were raw.

“Notre Dame is burning, the whole of France is crying, the whole world is crying,” said Archbishop Michel Aupetit of Paris. “It’s terrible, frightening, painful, a tragedy, a nightmare.”

“This place leaves no one untouched. When you enter this cathedral, it inhabits you,” said Anne Hidalgo, the Mayor of Paris, in front of the burning monument.

“We will rebuild,” said the Rector of Notre Dame, “we will rebuild.”

In the light of the day, the extent of the destruction was stunning. The cathedral’s 93-metre spire had collapsed, two-thirds of the roof was destroyed and parts of the interior were grievously damaged. But thanks to the efforts of 500 firefighters, the structure of the cathedral itself was “saved and preserved in its entirety”, according to Jean-Claude Gallet, commander of the Paris Fire Brigade. Two towers with their immense bells still stand and many of the cathedral’s priceless treasures survived.

 

Immense emotion

Of all the historic monuments on earth, Notre-Dame de Paris is one of the “superstars”: its unique history, exceptional architecture and renowned artefacts attract millions of visitors to Paris. Indeed, the cathedral can be described as an intangible strategic resource with few global equivalents.

Notre-Dame de Paris is first and foremost an exceptional place of Christian and Catholic worship, dating back nearly 1,000 years. It’s a jewel of Gothic art with countless treasures, including radiant stained-glass windows, the crown of thorns and tunic of Saint Louis, and the choir organ. It is collectively classified as a Unesco World Heritage Site.

As the “eldest daughter of the church” in France, Notre Dame is a national and cultural symbol, and has witnessed a large part of the country’s history: all its kings have stepped inside, and Napoleon crowned himself emperor there. Here the funerals of Charles de Gaulle, Georges Pompidou and François Mitterrand took place…

The Coronation of Napoleon, by Jacques-Louis David, 1808. Louvre Museum. Wikipedia

Millions of people who’ve never been to Paris have breathed the air inside the cathedral by reading Victor Hugo’s famous novel. While commonly known in English as The Hunchback of Notre-Dame, the original title is Notre-Dame de Paris, putting the cathedral front and centre in title and the narrative. Hugo delivered a romantic vision of the cathedral, as well as passage that describes a fire that took place only in readers’ imaginations:

“All eyes were raised to the top of the church. They beheld there an extraordinary sight. On the crest of the highest gallery, higher than the central rose window, there was a great flame rising between the two towers with whirlwinds of sparks, a vast, disordered, and furious flame.”


World Heritage Sites arouse emotions and emotions reveal shared values. Such emotions were on the faces of all those gathered in front of Notre Dame, the countless messages from heads of state, the flood of heartfelt sentiments on social networks – Notre Dame’s place in the collective imagination and worldwide influence is undeniable.As a direct consequence of Notre Dame’s history, architecture and art, of its place in culture and literature, the cathedral is the leading monument in Europe, with approximately 14 million visitors in 2018. It is one of France’s “primary assets”, the “cathedral of cathedrals”, a must – the actual word is used in French.

Speaking in front of the still-burning cathedral at 11:30 pm, French president Emmanuel Macron stated:

“Notre-Dame de Paris is our place, it is our history, our literature, our imagination, the place where we have lived all our great moments […]. It is in so many books and paintings […] Even for those who have never been there, this is our story.”

Such monuments encourage us to identify with them emotionally. They’re keystones to national identity, and can even further international relations. The agonised reaction to the fire at the cathedral mixes sentimentalism, nostalgia and nationalism in a way that is deeply linked to the past, as related by historian David Lowenthal in his study The Past is a Foreign Country.

Creative reconstruction

Continuing his speech in front of the cathedral, President Macron was unequivocal:

“We have built this cathedral and over the centuries we have made it grow and improved it. So I say to you solemnly this evening: we will rebuild this cathedral, all of us together […]. We will rebuild Notre Dame.”

Into the evening of April 15 and through the next day, an exceptional effort began to take form: The French president launched a national donation effort, Unesco pledged its support and mayors of towns large and small throughout France stood up as one. The wealthy Arnault and Pinault families have promised to donate a total of 300 million euros to the future restoration, and thousands of individuals have pledged their support.

Before the path to cathedral’s rebirth can be mapped out, we need a serious assessment of how the tragic destruction of such a priceless monument was even possible. It was undergoing renovation at the time of the fire broke out, and this raises questions about the requirements for work on historic monuments, and also the level of resources allocated. Art historians such as Alexandre Gady and Didier Rykner have stated that the fire could and should have been avoided. They state that even if Notre Dame is “repaired”, we have already in a sense “lost it”.

It is near certain that the cathedral cannot be rebuilt exactly as it was before. The fire started deep within the roof, which was under repair at the time. The oak frame dates from the 13th century, and according to experts, reproducing it would require a forest of 1,300 oak trees. One alternative is to use innovative techniques, as architect Henri Deneux did when he rebuilt the cathedral of Reims after it was nearly destroyed during the First World War.

The cathedral of Reims in 1914. Wikipedia, anonymous.

Monuments in general and religious monuments in particular are fragile. Against all odds, Notre Dame survived periods of immense turbulence in French history, and was touched by neither bombardments nor significant fires, a constant threat prior to the 1752 invention of the lightning rod. Until April 15, it had come to us remarkably preserved, and millions of visitors paid tribute every year. Yet the risk of the unimaginable still remained.

“It’s in our nature to mourn when we see history lost – but it’s also in our nature to rebuild for tomorrow, as strong as we can,” former US president Barack Obama said the night of the fire. Notre-Dame de Paris is the heart of the city and of France, and an inspiration for the world. We are all cathedral builders, in a moment of sacred union in a secular society.

 

Translation from the original French by Leighton Kille.

Anne Gombault, Professeur de management, directrice du centre de recherche Industries créatives Culture, Kedge Business School

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Browse articles by author

More Current Affairs

May 16th 2019
Iraq’s population when invaded was 26 million. Iran’s population today is 81 million..........Whereas Iraq’s neighbors– Turkey, Iran and Saudi Arabia in particular– had been mauled by Saddam and so did not strongly oppose Bush’s invasion, Shiite Iraqis, many Syrians, the Hazaras of Afghanistan, and the some 40 million Shiites of Pakistan would support Iran.
May 15th 2019
It’s time that economists, pundits, and politicians start looking holistically at life in our times, and take seriously the long-term structural changes needed to address the multiple crises of health care, despair, inequality, and stress in the US and many other countries. US citizens, in particular, should reflect on the fact that many other countries’ people are happier and less worried, and are living longer. In general, those other countries’ governments are not cutting taxes for the rich and slashing services for the rest. They are attending to the common good, instead of catering to the rich while pointing to illusory economic statistics that hide as much as they reveal.
May 8th 2019
"........Meanwhile, Trump is leaving the door open for Russia to come to his aid again in 2020. The White House and congressional Republican leaders have been blocking a bill to secure US elections against foreign attacks. And administration officials have been instructed not to raise the issue of Russian interference with the president, lest it cast a shadow on his legitimacy.  The next phase in this affair is already coming into focus. Barr, with the help of Trump’s golfing buddy Lindsey Graham, the Republican chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, is now enlisted in peddling the president’s fantasy that the Mueller investigation was a “witch hunt” orchestrated by “deep-state” supporters of Hillary Clinton. Once again, current and former FBI agents will be targeted, either because they expressed criticism of Trump or because they opened a national security investigation into a hostile power’s meddling in the US presidential election (which continued in the 2018 midterms). FBI director Christopher Wray, commenting on the Mueller report, said that the Russians are “upping their game” for 2020. "
May 7th 2019
We are witnessing the loss of biodiversity at rates never before seen in human history. Nearly a million species face extinction if we do not fundamentally change our relationship with the natural world, according to the world’s largest assessment of biodiversity.
May 4th 2019
Accusing Iran of being a rogue country bent on acquiring nuclear weapons, supporting extremist groups and terrorism, persistently threatening Israel, and destabilizing the region in its relentless effort to become the dominant power may well all be justified. The question is, what would it take to stop Iran from its destabilizing activities and help make it a constructive member of the international community, and avoid military confrontation with either the US or Israel or both?
Apr 29th 2019
Some of the most famous scientific discoveries happened by accident. From Teflon and the microwave oven to penicillin, scientists trying to solve a problem sometimes find unexpected things. This is exactly how we created phosphorene nanoribbons – a material made from one of the universe’s basic building blocks, but that has the potential to revolutionise a wide range of technologies.
Apr 28th 2019
Easter visitors to London have found some streets and buildings occupied by “Extinction Rebellion” activists, warning of climate catastrophe and rejecting “a failed capitalist system.” Followers of central bank thinking have seen the governors of the Bank of England and Banque de France warning that climate-related risks threaten company profits and financial stability. Both interventions highlight the severity of the climate challenge that the world faces. But warnings alone won’t fix the problem unless governments set ambitious but realistic targets to eliminate carbon dioxide and other greenhouse-gas emissions, backed by policies to ensure the targets are achieved. Zero net CO2 emissions by 2050 at the latest should be the legally defined objective in all developed economies.
Apr 25th 2019
LONDON – Russian efforts to influence European elections have received plenty of media attention. But the same cannot be said of interference by conservative Christian groups based in the United States, some with links to President Donald Trump’s administration and his former adviser, Stephen Bannon.
Apr 24th 2019
.............the version of the report released is only the start of wide-ranging and intensive House investigations.
Apr 17th 2019
On the night of April 15, 2019, in Paris, the emotions were raw. “Notre Dame is burning, the whole of France is crying, the whole world is crying,” said Archbishop Michel Aupetit of Paris. “It’s terrible, frightening, painful, a tragedy, a nightmare.” “This place leaves no one untouched. When you enter this cathedral, it inhabits you,” said Anne Hidalgo, the Mayor of Paris, in front of the burning monument. “We will rebuild,” said the Rector of Notre Dame, “we will rebuild.”
Apr 15th 2019
High-level political purges are gathering pace in Russia. The latest evidence came in late March, with the arrests of Mikhail Abyzov, a former minister for open government affairs, and – two days later – Viktor Ishayev, a former Far East minister and ex-governor of Russia’s Khabarovsk region. Unsurprisingly, the arrests of such senior figures is having a chilling effect among the country’s elites. The authorities have now arrested or imprisoned three former federal government ministers and a supporting cast of regional officials
Apr 8th 2019
The reaction to this type of paternalism, sensible and well-meant as it usually was, came in the form of petulant populism. Like a child who refuses to eat his spinach, just because his mother claims it is good for him, supporters of Trump, Brexiteers, or Baudet want to give the finger to the politics of virtue. That is why Nigel Farage, the chief promoter of Brexit, likes to be photographed with a glass full of beer and a smoldering cigarette: if the virtuous elite want us to drink less and quit smoking, let’s have another and light up.
Apr 8th 2019
Chinese President Xi Jinping seems to be on a roll. He has sent a rocket to the dark side of the moon, built artificial islands on contested reefs in the South China Sea, and recently enticed Italy to break ranks with its European partners and sign on to China’s Belt and Road Initiative. Meanwhile, US President Donald Trump’s unilateralist posture has reduced America’s soft power and influence. China’s economic performance over the past four decades has been truly impressive. It is now the main trading partner for more than a hundred countries compared to about half that number for the United States. Its economic growth has slowed, but its official 6% annual rate is more than twice the American rate. Conventional wisdom projects that China’s economy will surpass that of the US in size in the coming decade. Perhaps. But it is also possible that Xi has feet of clay.
Apr 2nd 2019
"......as prime minister, May called a snap election in the name of helping her deliver Brexit. She openly dismissed anyone opposing Brexit – which at the very least meant the 16.5m who had voted remain – as “playing games with politics”. In hock to the hardline Brexiteers within her own party, May pushed a for a version of Brexit that would make this small group of around 100 or so individuals happy, regardless of what millions out in the country thought."
Apr 1st 2019
The financial crisis occurred in 2008 because deficient regulation allowed huge risks to develop within the financial system itself. But the depth of the subsequent recession, and the long period of slow growth that followed, was the result not of continued financial system fragility, but of the excessive leverage in the real economy that had developed over the previous half-century. Between 1950 and 2007, advanced economies’ private-sector debt (households and companies) grew from 50% to 170% of GDP and adequate growth seemed attainable only if debt grew far more rapidly than nominal GDP. After the crisis, loan growth turned negative and remained depressed for many years, not because an impaired financial system lacked the capital to extend credit, but because overleveraged households and companies were determined to pay down debt even if interest rates were zero. The same pattern was observed in Japan in the 1990s.
Mar 28th 2019
The American people should have known that something was awry when President Donald Trump’s attorney general, William Barr, announced on Friday, March 22, that he had received special counsel Robert Mueller’s report and would provide a summary of its findings to certain congressional leaders over the weekend. We should have asked: Why Barr’s summary and not Mueller’s? Presumably, Mueller had attached one to his report. It turned out there was a propagandistic reason for this unusual arrangement: Barr issued the best possible interpretation of Mueller’s report – from the president’s standpoint – including perhaps even a twist on what Mueller had said and intended. This allowed the president and his backers to propagate and celebrate what Mueller didn’t say: that the report’s conclusions were a “total exoneration” of Trump. In fact, even Barr’s brief summary, quoting Mueller’s report, said, “While this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.”
Mar 26th 2019
"The 2020 campaign could easily devolve into street violence at Trump’s instigation."
Mar 26th 2019


 

BEIJING – The global economy is weakening, in no small measure because of a deep, widespread sense of uncertainty. And a major source of that uncertainty is the ongoing Sino-American “trade war.”

Mar 19th 2019
Last week, a far-right extremist killed at least 50 people – including a three-year-old child – worshiping at two mosques in the New Zealand city of Christchurch. Neither white supremacy, nor racially motivated terrorist attacks carried out in its name, are new phenomena. Yet the response to far-right terrorism remains thoroughly insufficient.