Bishop Eric Aumonier speaks with Aleteia about the controversial plans to restore Notre-Dame de Paris.
Bishop Eric Aumonier, the representative of the Diocese of Paris for the restoration of Notre Dame, speaks with Aleteia about the spiritual challenges of the cathedral’s redevelopment and the need to bring visitors into the mystery of the liturgy.
How can we preserve the vocation of Notre-Dame de Paris as the seat of the bishop, while at the same time welcoming, with meaning, the millions of visitors who enter the cathedral each year? This is the challenge of the redevelopment project presented by the Diocese of Paris to the National Heritage Commission (CNPA) on Thursday, December 9. If it has been misunderstood by defenders of the cathedral’s heritage, Bishop Aumonier wants to reassure them: “Our desire is not to transform the cathedral but to continue to pray with all the faithful while offering visitors who want to visit the building the means to understand what is lived inside.”
Aleteia: How important was it for the diocese to revise the liturgical layout and tour route of Notre Dame de Paris?
Bishop Eric Aumonier: The restoration of Notre Dame was an opportunity for the diocese to rethink the spiritual journey of Notre Dame, beyond the liturgical furnishings damaged during the fire. It was necessary to reflect on how we should welcome, even better than before, the faithful and tourists so that they could better perceive the mystery that takes place there. Notre Dame is a place of prayer, not just once in a while, but every day and almost every hour! This liturgical life, omnipresent, must be more readily understandable to tourists. Our desire is not to transform the cathedral but to continue to pray with all the faithful while offering visitors who want to visit the building the means to understand what is lived inside.
We do not wish to show a building in its materiality but to introduce visitors to the liturgical mystery that has been celebrated in Notre-Dame for eight centuries.
Our approach is part of the almost thousand-year-old history of Notre-Dame de Paris, which has continuously evolved since Maurice de Sully. It is an approach of “tradition” which etymologically means “to transmit.” To transmit the faith by relying on concrete elements of architecture and works of art. Our desire is to help you discover Notre-Dame in all its splendor. It is not a question of damaging or betraying this centuries-old tradition, but rather of being part of it.
How do you respond to those who fear that the interior of Notre-Dame de Paris will be distorted? Do you feel that the project has been misunderstood?
As long as a project is under study, it is difficult for people to understand the ins and outs. I also think that there is a deep attachment to the cathedral and I am happy about that. Heritage advocates are obviously concerned about what is going on in Notre Dame and want the cathedral to retain its splendor and not be damaged. Their remarks are quite legitimate and should be heard and discussed. The Church is not closed to conversation, on the contrary, we wish to dialogue with the promoters of Notre Dame’s heritage. Presenting our project to the Heritage Commission was a duty but also an opportunity to see how the experts perceived the broad outlines of our project. To improve a route, to allow people to discover what the Christian itinerary is in a church, to understand why there is a big cross, why people bow down in front of it, why the crown of thorns is honored… all this seems essential to us. We are not going to change the orientation of the cathedral or the works, but just improve visits and, why not, invite other artists of our time to offer their view of the beauty of the cathedral and of the faith.
What do you say to Catholics who fear that Notre-Dame de Paris will become a museum?
On the contrary, Notre-Dame de Paris is anything but a museum or a concert hall! Museums try to offer educational tours, but our project for Notre-Dame is not that. We do not wish to show a building in its materiality but to introduce visitors to the liturgical mystery that has been celebrated in Notre-Dame for eight centuries. This seems to us absolutely necessary to maintain the sacred dimension of the cathedral.