France opens the question: should Notre-Dame be rebuilt as it was?
President Emmanuel Macron wants the cathedral rebuilt in five years while prime minister says there may be a case for a more modern spire
Paris — France will open the redesign of Notre-Dame cathedral’s historic spire to international architects after Monday night’s catastrophic blaze that gutted the oak-framed roof and sent the towering spire crashing through the vaulted ceiling.
The government’s announcement on Wednesday added to a question many are asking as France grieves for its damaged national symbol — whether the familiar outline at the heart of the capital should be restored exactly as it was or given a modern twist.
President Emmanuel Macron pledged in a prime-time address to the nation on Tuesday that Notre-Dame would be rebuilt within five years. Tycoons and international firms have promised financial and expert help.
The cathedral was built over nearly 200 years starting in the middle of the 12th century, although it was only in the mid-1800s that architect Eugene Viollet-le-Duc added the lead-covered spire during restoration work.
“The international competition will allow us to ask the question of whether we should even recreate the spire as it was conceived by Viollet-le-Duc,” Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said.
“Or whether, as is often the case during the evolution of heritage, we should endow Notre-Dame with a new spire that reflects the techniques and challenges of our era.”
The inferno devastated a world treasure, prompting an outpouring of collective sorrow and soul-searching in France over whether to recreate the destroyed rooftop and spire or adapt the cathedral to the 21st century.
As Philippe spoke, firefighters were using a crane to hoist supports to stabilise a fire-ravaged pinnacle that houses one of Notre-Dame’s 13th-century stained-glass rose windows.
There was no immediate danger that the centuries-old structure would collapse but statues were also being removed to reduce the risk of movement, the fire service’s spokesperson said.
“Today, there is no risk of collapse. Our priority is to stabilise the pinnacles which are weakened, since they are no longer held up by the roof and its frame,” Lt-Col Gabriel Plus said.
There were also concerns for the towering mountain of scaffolding that had been erected prior to the blaze for repair work to the 90m spire, and that was subjected to an intense heat, Plus said.
It was not yet known what caused the blaze.
The city’s public prosecutor, Remy Heitz, said there was no sign of arson and it was likely to have been the result of an accident. Some 50 people were working on what would be a long and complex investigation, he said.
Passers-by laid flowers on bridges crossing the Seine River as Parisians gave thanks to see the bell towers standing valiantly after the fire.
Concerns over the cathedral’s structural soundness have prevented investigators from entering Notre-Dame’s main nave to assess damage at ground level.
As the scale of damage was revealed, billionaires and corporate giants lined up to pledge huge donations. Their largesse raised questions among some French people over whether they had hidden motives such as seeking tax breaks.
Philippe said his government would draft new legislation to introduce a 75% tax deduction on private donations up to €1,000. The deductible will remain at 66% for bigger sums.
The cathedral has been at the centre of a long-running financing row and pleas from the church for more cash.