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Rebuild Notre Dame as a 'secular' shrine?

Notre Dame Cathedral (Image courtesy Pixabay)

As pledges to rebuild the Notre Dame Cathedral mount to more than $1 billion, some architects and historians see an opportunity to re-imagine the 850-year-old church as a secular shrine, less “burdened” with Christian meaning.

Writing for the Rolling Stone, EJ Dickson observed that “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 cited Patricio del Real, an architecture historian at Harvard University.

“The building was so overburdened with meaning that its burning feels like an act of liberation,” she said.

Michael Kimmelmann wrote for the New York Times that the cathedral has been viewed by some as a stodgy reminder of “the old city — the embodiment of the Paris of stone and faith — just as the Eiffel Tower exemplifies the Paris of modernity, joie de vivre and change.”

Dickson noted that while French President Emmanuel Macron and major donors have emphasized that the cathedral should be rebuilt as close to the original as possible, some architectural historians believe that would be complicated.

They point to the many stages of Notre Dame’s evolution.

“The question becomes, which Notre Dame are you actually rebuilding?” said John Harwood, an architectural historian and associate professor at the University of Toronto.

“It’s literally a political monument. All cathedrals are,” he said.

Harwood argued that for centuries, the cathedral was the seat of the bishop of the Catholic Church at a time when the church had political power.

“It was the center and seat of political power not just in Paris, but in France,” he said. “And that remained the case even after the French Revolution and through successive revolutions and political power and regimes.”

During the French Revolution in the 1790s, mobs of revolutionaries looted the cathedral, declaring it was no longer a church.

Hot Air blogger Allahpundit, who spotlighted the Rolling Stone article, provided some social media reaction.

Michael Brendan Dougherty, a senior writer for National Review, wrote via Twitter: “I promise right now. If you try to rebuild it as a ‘secular’ Notre Dame, reflecting the political priorities of 2019, I will do my damndest to see that the next fire takes it all down. I won’t come alone.”