Green light for the interior arrangements of Notre-Dame
Here is the press release from the Diocese of Paris concerning the opinion issued by the CNPA on the interior arrangements of the cathedral.
Notre-Dame de Paris: a Catholic cathedral open to all
Thursday 9 December 2021, the diocese of Paris, through the voice of Mgr Eric Aumonier, representative of the diocese for the restoration of Notre-Dame-de-Paris to the official authorities, presented this morning of Thursday 9 December, to the members of the National Commission for Heritage and Architecture, the cathedral interior design project. The diocese is delighted with the opinion of the CNPA, which allows it to continue and specify its interior design project for the cathedral, subject to modifications relating mainly to the location of certain statues and the design of the benches of the nave.
The project, as it was presented today, is the result of reflection carried out since the fire of Notre-Dame, in April 2019, by Mgr Michel Aupetit and a team chosen by the diocese and led by Father Gilles Drouin, Director of the Higher Institute of Liturgy (ICP) and theologian. This project, which was presented to all the priests of Paris by Fr. Henry de Villefranche, aims to address three main challenges, according to Mgr Georges Pontier, apostolic administrator of the diocese: “It’s about reopening the cathedral for worship, in accordance with its traditional vocation, and welcoming the millions of people who visit Notre-Dame each year, by offering those who enter it an initiation into its premier mission“.
Pray and celebrate
The first challenge which the interior arrangement project presented today addresses is to emphasise that the cathedral is the place where the bishop has his seat. “This is the primary, cardinal and essential mission of Notre-Dame-de-Paris for our diocese: bringing the Christian people together, celebrating the Eucharist, welcoming catechumens, teaching the Good News, training hearts and minds” (Mgr Aumonier). It is, in fact, in the cathedral that the bishop invites all the priests of his diocese to concelebrate, manifesting the unity of the presbyterium; it’s here that he ordains priests and deacons whom he sends out to serve the diocese. It’s the mother church to which all the parish churches and chapels of the diocese refer. It’s the church whose liturgy serves as their model. It’s also the special place for the bishop to address representatives of civil society.
The second challenge obviously relates to the extremely high number of visitors to the cathedral. Notre-Dame was, before the fire of April 2019, one of the most visited monuments in Europe. It welcomed more than 12 million people each year, whom the diocese has always refused to divide between faithful and tourists, as this distinction only corresponds very approximately to the complex reality of the motivations of those who set foot inside the cathedral. The challenge is both quantitative and qualitative: now, the majority of visitors come from countries with cultures foreign to the Christian world.
The third challenge is to signify why the cathedral was designed: to sing the glory of God, through art and music, especially in the liturgy. So it’s a question of underlining that if the cathedral speaks for itself, an initiation is nevertheless precious to grasp its mystery.
A development project faithful to the vocation of Notre-Dame
“Notre-Dame is both a church, a cathedral, a historic monument, a national monument, and internationally known. The fire of 15 April 2019 reminded us of the incredible attachment to Notre-Dame and, since then, the teams set up by the diocese have been guided by the desire to continue the story to bring this building back to life as of 2024 and for centuries to come“, for Fr. Drouin, who leads the team established by the diocese to design the project. Given the necessary cleaning and restoration of the interior spaces led by the public institution in charge of restoration, the teams of the diocese have a certain freedom to design this redevelopment project, closely associated with an immense responsibility, that the diocese of Paris fully assumes. For Mgr Patrick Chauvet, Rector of Notre-Dame-de-Paris, “Our priority is to continue to allow those who enter Notre-Dame, whether they come every Sunday or are entering for the first time, whether they’re Parisians or not, Catholics or not, to pray there, to take part in the Eucharist, to marvel at its beauty“.
The liturgical path
To respond to the three challenges posed by the restoration of the cathedral, the diocesan team presented a liturgical route, whose celebratory space is of course centred on the altar – which retains its location within the project – between a baptistery located in the western part of the nave and a tabernacle installed on Viollet-le-Duc’s high altar, at the foot of the Cross of Glory. Alongside the existing places of devotion, the Virgin at the pillar, the Latin American and Chinese chapels, the diocesan project proposes establishing a prayer space near the tabernacle and around the reliquary case of the Crown of Thorns, as well as confessionals.
The catechumenal route: the keys to understanding for everyone
The diocesan project thus provides, in parallel with the interior liturgical arrangement of the cathedral, that a real route be designed which, by using the architecture and the various works, can offer a real initiation route. In this way, everyone can, by following the route from north to south, discover the pillars of the Christian faith (from the Creation and the promise of salvation to the birth, Passion and Resurrection of Christ, bearer of men’s salvation and then revealed in the Gospel, then by the apostles and saints – especially those of Paris).
Revised acoustics and lighting to serve the liturgy
Specific work on the sound system is in progress, intended for both liturgies and concerts. At the same time, a new lighting system for the cathedral is under study. It will be based on two principles: better sharing of light between the altar and the nave, so that the faithful can be better, more closely involved in the celebrations, through soft lighting, at face level. In addition, varying the lighting will better support the various liturgical celebrations within the cathedral: diffused, soft light for prayer vigils or night-time celebrations, understated for Lent and Advent, for example, or radiant for the major Christmas and Easter celebrations.
Continuing History, a responsibility in the dialogue between past and present
Finally, the project will restore meaning and coherence to the presentation of the cathedral’s artworks. In particular, it will involve redeveloping the chapels of the nave, spaces hitherto partly abandoned to everyday uses. The project plans to bring the art of today into the side chapels, in dialogue with the old works, thus marking the desire to continue the multi-century history of the cathedral for the future.
The diocese is delighted to have been able to discuss at each stage of the project with the Public Institution, the Ministry of Culture and many characters involved in promoting this heritage. This dialogue, which will continue in the coming months, will allow Notre-Dame to continue to shine forth in the spirit of the great project of Maurice de Sully.