Notre Dame Is Falling Down: Why The French Need Our Help (Again)

If I asked you to name the most famous church in France, more likely than not you would pick the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris. Thanks to its prominent location in the French capital, its appearance in films, television, and works of art, and its significant influence on church design around the world, Notre Dame is perhaps the best-known religious building in France, even if it’s not quite the most beautiful or interesting church in that country. So it will no doubt grieve you to learn that, as a result of centuries of neglect, Notre Dame is falling down – and needs about 150 million euros to be saved.

As described by the Friends of Notre-Dame de Paris charitable group:

Unfortunately, the architectural state of the cathedral is in very bad condition. This does not appear at first glance as the façade was restored in the nineties. However, below are a few examples of the urgent repairs needed :

  • the nearly 100 meter high spire and the 12 apostles that crown it have a large number of cracks and fissures that need an immediate restoration,
  • the aging stonework of all of the flying buttresses are causing problems for the stability of the whole building,
  • many pinnacles and gargoyles are in disrepair or have fallen down and
  • the lead framework of the stained glass windows is weakened

The Ministry of Culture summarized all these needed repairs in a 2014 audit. The overall cost of the restoration of Notre-Dame de Paris is estimated to be around €150 million. This estimate includes both the base infrastructure as well as other architectural and cultural treasures. Ideally, these renovations need to be completed within the next 5 years, and at the latest within 15 years.

We can lay the blame for this situation at a number of doorsteps. The passage of time, pollution, declining Mass attendance, poor management, and other factors all have parts to play. However, I suspect that a significant part of the problem lies in the strange relationship which Notre Dame the building has with the congregation which it serves, or rather with the secular government which controls it.

For you see, rather bizarrely, the Archdiocese of Paris does not actually own Notre Dame. It is in fact the property of the French government, which permits the Church to use the Cathedral for religious purposes, but does not provide any funding toward the running of the building. There are comparatively small-scale government grants made to the building for historic preservation purposes, but on the whole, any major restoration costs fall on the Archdiocese’s tab. This head-scratching arrangement was codified at the turn of the previous century, but really began in 1789.

Of the many things which you were probably not taught in school about the French Revolution was the fact that churches like Notre Dame were stolen from the Church by the French government, and desecrated in the name of atheism. In addition to attacks on the fabric of these buildings themselves, where towers, facades, or sometimes even entire structures were torn down, countless works of art contained within them were destroyed or defaced. Graves of the dead buried within these churches were plundered and the bodies thrown onto scrap heaps, while innumerable numbers of books from their libraries were burned, all in the name of worship of the secular French state.

To substitute for Christianity, ceremonies were invented to celebrate the State, or amorphous concepts such as “Liberty”, albeit not a form of that concept which I daresay any reasonable person would care to live under. One of the more egregious examples of this, in the case of Notre Dame, was the celebration within its walls of “The Festival of Reason”, which was described by the Scottish philosopher and historian Thomas Carlyle in his “The French Revolution: A History” (1837). As part of the bacchanal of blood involved in this event, an actress and prostitute – but I repeat myself – by the name of Amélie-Julie Candeille was dressed as a personification of liberty, paraded around Paris, and brought to the now-desecrated Notre Dame, so that she could be worshiped where the high altar once stood by the President of France and his toadies:

President and Secretaries give Goddess Candeille, borne at due height round their platform, successively the fraternal kiss; whereupon she, by decree, sails to the right-hand of the President and there alights. And now, after due pause and flourishes of oratory, the Convention, gathering its limbs, does get under way in the required procession towards Notre-Dame;–Reason, again in her litter, sitting in the van of them, borne, as one judges, by men in the Roman costume; escorted by wind-music, red nightcaps, and the madness of the world. And so straightway, Reason taking seat on the high- altar of Notre-Dame, the requisite worship or quasi-worship is, say the Newspapers, executed; National Convention chanting ‘the Hymn to Liberty, words by Chenier, music by Gossec.’ It is the first of the Feasts of Reason; first communion-service of the New Religion of Chaumette.

After the re-legalization of Christianity in the 19th century there was some improvement to the situation, in the form of an over-zealous restoration project headed by the legendary architect and theoretician Viollet-le-Duc. However, apart from the restoration of some windows after World War II, and the cleaning of the façade twenty years ago, there has been virtually no maintenance work on the Cathedral for nearly two centuries. It’s no wonder, then, that the building is quite literally falling to pieces.

Given the fact that Notre Dame is in the state that she is in is, at least in part, due to the abuse and neglect which she has suffered at the hands of the State, it seems to me that the only proper course of action is either for the French government itself to pay for her restoration, or for the State to wash its hands of the entire cause célèbre by returning ownership of the building to the Church. Neither of these things will happen, of course, since France is too busy paying for important necessities such as French President Emmanuel Macron’s $30,000 makeup bill. In addition, anti-Catholicism is so rooted in the workings of the State, that any attempt to return the Church’s rightful property to her would be doomed to legislative failure.

And so once again, it falls to the international community – and particularly Americans, natch – to take on the work which the French are too impotent to handle themselves. That’s not an excuse for us to sit back and do nothing, of course, while the Cathedral falls into ruin. But it’s rather embarrassing that, once again, the rest of the world has to come to France’s rescue.

Garg

Advertisements

More Real Than Real: Church Architecture In The Digital Art Of Markus Brunetti

I recently came across reviews of an interesting summer art show out in Hong Kong, for those of my readers who find themselves there over the next few days. Through the end of this week, the Axel Vervoordt Gallery is showing “FACADES”, an exhibition of the work of German photographer and digital artist Markus Brunetti. At first glance, you’d be forgiven for thinking that this is simply a photography show, featuring images of various famous churches – but looks can be very deceiving.

For more than a decade, Brunetti and partner Betty Schöner have traveled around Europe taking high-resolution photographs of every element of carefully selected churches in a wide variety of architectural styles. The structures are chosen for their overall interest and level of detail, and range from Romanesque to Gothic to Baroque and beyond. But instead of just standing back far enough to try to take in the entire building, they photograph no more than a few square feet at more of every part of the building’s façade at a time. They then digitally stitch together these images, photoshopping out things like power lines or street lamps, digitally adjusting light levels and colors, and so on, in order to create a single, unified whole. The process can take months or even years to complete.

The end result is an image of an existing building which in a sense does not exist – or at least, does not exist in a way that we can perceive with the naked eye. It’s almost like looking at a very exact blueprint of a façade from an architect’s portfolio, except one with a far greater sense of color, decoration, and spatial depth than what even the most detailed line drawing could hope to achieve. And unlike a photograph, where light, the camera lens, and the human eye bring certain elements into focus and cause other elements to recede, every detail of these buildings is clearly delineated, in a way that was previously impossible for us to see before the advent of highly sophisticated imaging technology.

As the Gallery explains, “[n]ever before have these buildings been rendered in such a way. The fine mosaics, intricate carving, filigree metal work and stained glass are there for us to see, along with the cracks, deformations and decay. These are not simply photographs of façades; they are reconstructions of them, attending to every last idiosyncrasy.”

For those of us who are mere observers and appreciators of art, we can appreciate the enormous amount of work, skill, and carefully attention to detail that went into the creation of these images, which in a sense are more real than real. At the same time, I can imagine artists and historians pouring over these pictures with great pleasure, seeing things all at once which they could never hope to capture from even the best single photograph of one of these buildings, while architects and designers would surely love to be able to study these elements knowing that they are not hampered by this column detail being slightly out of focus or that bit of statuary being hidden by something else. In a way, Brunetti’s work reminds me of 2nd Period Roman wall painting, in which we are forced into experiencing a single perspective, even though we are given the illusion of everything existing in three dimensions at once.

The philosophy or message behind Brunetti’s images is one that I will leave to those who need to find esoteric meanings in things which, of themselves, are extremely interesting works of art. If you love architecture and appreciate technology, the technique used by Brunetti et al. is absolutely fascinating. I would love to see some of these images up close, for clearly these are pictures to get lost in.

FACADES is at the Axel Vervoordt Gallery in Hong Kong through August 26th.

Exhibition

I’ve Got Opinions (Here Are A Few)

It’s a curious sensation when you realize that you have become permanently linked with certain topics in the minds of other people.

Not infrequently, I get pinged regarding stories making their way around the interwebz, by readers who automatically associate me with the subject matter of the reporting – Renaissance altarpieces, Catalan cuisine, the planet Krypton, etc. There’s an expectation that I’ll have an opinion worth sharing on the story, whatever it may be. It’s incredibly humbling that you want to know what that opinion is, gentle reader, when far better writers than I do not get nearly as much support: so thank you for your continued patronage.

Here comes a brief potpourri of links and opinions for you to have a think about today. As it happens, all of the following stories are courtesy of readers who asked me about these subjects, or tagged me in posts about them. So as you can see, I really am paying attention, most of the time.

– There’s no news yet on any results from the exhumation and paternity test conducted on the remains of the late Salvador Dalí, which took place last week. News reports indicate that when his coffin was opened, the artist’s legendary mustache was found to still be intact and in place, nearly two decades after his death. Tests are currently being carried out by forensic pathologists in Madrid. I’m withholding judgment until the scientists and courts reach a conclusion, but you can guess my opinion about this whole thing given what I wrote previously.

– A fire in Normandy destroyed 182 objects and an entire wing of the Tatihou Island Maritime Museum (“Musée maritime de l’île Tatihou”, pictured below) – including three paintings on loan from The Louvre. The blaze was most likely sparked by two lighting strikes during intense summer storms. Estimates put the value of the lost works at somewhere north of $1.3 million. However institutions like that of the Maritime Museum on Tatihou and their holdings carry far greater worth than their intrinsic value would suggest, since these objects tell the preserved history of their communities. If you have such collections in your area, please go support them – they need your assistance to survive and thrive for future generations.

– Meanwhile in the Las Vegas ‘burbs, a hideous structure called Holy Spirit Catholic Church will soon be open so that everyone can come in and play “Tabernacle Hide-and-Seek”, that favorite Spirit of Vatican II game. About the only thing that’s marginally interesting about this church are its tapestries, from the same artist who designed the tapestries for the Taj Mahoney, a.k.a. the monstrosity known as the Cathedral of Los Angeles. (I’ve not made up my mind about his work yet: are they good, or are they just kitsch?) On the whole, the interior looks like a day spa in space as imagined by Roger Vadim, where one could have a seaweed wrap while listening to some Zen Buddhist chant piped through the sound system. But who am I to judge.

[N.B. Interestingly, another new parish named for St. Anthony of Padua opened in suburban Las Vegas last year, and while I can’t say that I love it, exactly, at least it looks like a Catholic church, and one that takes reverence for both the Blessed Sacrament and the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass seriously.]