Editor’s Note: This story was originally published on July 9 and has been updated.
Anyone hoping to see the Notre Dame’s spire rise from the ashes as a gleaming, ultra-modern version of its former self will be disappointed.
During months of heated debate, French President Emmanuel Macron had supported a contemporary design for the reconstruction of the 850-year-old cathedral following a damaging fire last year, but on Thursday, he made a U-turn and is now backing the restoration of the spire to exactly how it was.
It’s a significant shift from the government, which last year announced an international competition to reimagine the damaged structure’s roof and spire. A winning proposal was initially expected to be chosen during the first half of this year, though restoration works and a decision on the design were delayed by the coronavirus lockdown.
“The President of the Republic has become convinced of the need to restore Notre Dame de Paris in the most consistent manner possible to its last complete, coherent and known state,” the Elysée Palace said.
It added that the President had “placed his trust in the expertise” of the country’s National Heritage and Architecture Commission to make the right restoration decisions for the world-famous cathedral, which had already been restored in the 19th century.
Macron’s decision comes the same day the country’s new culture minister, Roselyne Bachelot, argued on the France Inter radio station that the cathedral should be rebuilt to look “identical” to how it was, saying there was “broad consensus” against a contemporary redesign for the roof and spire.
“It’s hard to say it’ll be ‘exactly the same,’ but the spirit of the spire will remain,” said Bachelot, just days into her new role. She acknowledged that Macron had the power to make a final decision.
In November, Macron’s special representative for the reconstruction, Jean-Louis Georgelin, clashed with France’s chief architect for historic monuments, Philippe Villeneuve, who had called for an identical restoration. Georgelin, an army general, revealed that he had told Villeneuve to “shut his mouth so that we can move forward wisely.”
A number of architects and designers have gone public with ideas of how to rebuild the cathedral. In May 2019, the month following the fire, architect Vincent Callebaut’s firm unveiled a futuristic glass design, complete with solar power and an urban farm for vulnerable and homeless Parisians.
Designer Nicolas Abdelkader meanwhile proposed turning the cathedral’s roof into a greenhouse with a beehive-filled spire.
But many senior figures called for the building’s traditional Gothic appearance to be maintained. The French Senate and Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo both expressed hopes that the restoration simply replicates how Notre Dame looked before the fire, which French prosecutors said could have been started by a cigarette or electrical malfunction.
Bachelot, a long-serving parliamentarian and political commentator, has previously served as sports minister and environment minister. Having stepped away from politics, she was unexpectedly appointed to the culture brief last week by new prime minister, Jean Castex. French media have reported that the 73-year-old is an ardent opera fan.