It seems as if French President Emmanuel Macron has turned totally about on designing the restoration of the Cathedral of Notre-Dame after its fire of last year. After the conflagration he called for a modernist rebuild. About a year later, the French senate said no way, and he has recently folded his tent. Good for him. The lost spire, especially, will be rebuilt not only in its original style (during the restoration by Voillet-le-Duc in the 19th century), but, as best they can, with original materials.
This is very good news. Macron gave way probably because he foresaw that the international design competition might add years of controversy to the project, which he wants completed by 2024, in time for the Paris Olympics. In fact, if experts are correct (a very big if), the renovation may take at least a decade or two, in part because some 400 specialized masons, carpenters, etc., must be trained. But it may not be so long for the structure to be sufficiently stabilized and repaired that visitors can be allowed inside.
This is mostly great news but it arrives amid bad news, news that is possibly worse by a considerable margin. Two weeks ago fire struck the Cathedral of Saint Peter and Saint Paul at Nantes, near the Bay of Biscay, begun in 1434. The damage was less severe than at Notre-Dame, but its organ was consumed and its stained glass windows ruptured. The blaze is believed to have been arson, with fires set in three places. A Rwandan refugee volunteer at the building was picked up, released, then confessed. Worse, other French churches are being vandalized, and it appears to be anti-Catholic in motivation. (Of course, anti-Semitic crimes continue apace.)
Neither in Paris nor in Nantes has motivation for arson been established – at Notre-Dame arson itself has been denied. Some or all of this rash of violence may have roots in the same political radicalism evident in the riots that have torched parts of major American cities and toppled statues, including many with little or no connection to police brutality. Twitter comments originating in France strongly suggest a radical motive:
Another element active in Nantes, the far-left, appeared to celebrate the incident. A self-described anarchist wrote on Twitter “Je bois les larmes de cathos au réveil. 150 nouveaux abonnés en 24h. Vivement la prochaine église en feu.” (“I drink Catholic tears when I wake up. 150 new subscribers in 24 hours. Can’t wait for the next church to burn down.”) and “#Nantes La seule église qui illumine est celle qui brûle” (the familiar anarchist phrase “the only church that illuminates is one that burns.”).
Speaking of such ugliness, and its antithesis, beauty, three cheers for the French authorities, who at the very least have reflected the feelings of the French people. A largely undeclared but powerful motive for repairing and rebuilding cathedrals and other memorials as they were originally designed or as glorified in the popular imagination is for the forces of tradition to push back against asinine soi-disant “philosophes” of both nationalities. As the French general at the Battle of Verdun declared, “They shall not pass!”