Liberal Historians: Notre Dame Cathedral Should Be Rebuilt as Less Religious

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April 17, 2019Apr 17, 2019

After a fire destroyed the roof and spire of the famous Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris and damaged everything below, the French president declared that the 865-year-old building will be rebuilt and restored in the next five years.

It is news that has cheered many of the millions upon millions of people who have cherished the cathedral for its religious, historical, and architectural significance.

But some liberals believe the Gothic structure should be stripped of much of its religious significance and rebuilt in a way that, in their minds, better reflects a more progressive, secular era.

According to Rolling Stone, the number of practicing Catholics has declined significantly in the past decade while the number of practicing Muslims has steadily increased in the same time.

“Any rebuilding should be a reflection not of an old France, or the France that never was — a non-secular, white European France — but a reflection of the France of today, a France that is currently in the making,” summarized Rolling Stone writer EJ Dickson about University of Toronto architectural historian John Hardwood’s view on the matter.

“For some people in France, Notre Dame has also served as a deep-seated symbol of resentment, a monument to a deeply flawed institution and an idealized Christian European France that arguably never existed in the first place,” Dickson continued.

Harvard University architecture historian Patricio del Real even seemed to express joy at the cathedral’s fiery destruction, commenting, “The building was so overburdened with meaning that its burning feels like an act of liberation.”

“The idea that you can recreate the building is naive,” Hardwood insisted. “It is to repeat past errors, category errors of thought, and one has to imagine that if anything is done to the building it has to be an expression of what we want — the Catholics of France, the French people — want. What is an expression of who we are now? What does it represent, who is it for?”

Some historians are not onboard with the idea of secularizing Notre Dame, though.

Jeffrey Hamburger, an art history professor at Harvard University, says doing such a thing would be “preposterous.”

“It’s not as if in rebuilding the church one is necessarily building a monument to the glorification of medieval Catholicism and aristocracy,” he argued. “It’s simply the case that the building has witnessed the entire history of France as a modern nation.”

“[You] can’t just erase history. It’s there, and it has to be dealt with critically.”

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