“It’s a fundamental step, and very complex, because it’s difficult to send workers into a monument whose vaulted ceilings are swollen with water. The end of the fire does not mean the edifice is totally saved. The stone can deteriorate when it is exposed to high temperatures and change its mineral composition or fracture inside,” said French conservation architect/preservationist Pierluigi Pericolo.
The restoration/reconstruction work for the heavily fire-damaged Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris has yet to begin. The assessment of the complete damage, and stabilization of the surviving masonry and stone structure are expected to take well over a year. France’s President, Emmanuel Macron, has set an aggressive time table of five years, to have Notre Dame again able to welcome visitors when Paris host the Olympic Games again in 2024.
Within days of the containment of the flames nearly destroying the 850-year old structure, several of the wealthiest citizens of France stepped forward with generous multi-million Euro pledges and donations to begin the difficult task of reconstruction. In total, nearly a billion Euros have already been pledged, nearly half that from three French families. Fashion and retail magnate Francois Pinault announced he would give $100 million Euros. His long-standing rival and fellow billionaire, Bernaud Arnault, owner of the luxury goods group LVMH doubled-down with a pledge of $200 million Euros. And the Bettencourt family, part-owners of the L’Oreal empire announced $200-million Euros, and other major enterprises there have followed suit.
And perhaps only in Paris, within a day or two of these generous donations being pledged, there were protests in the streets, objecting to the obscene wealth being directed toward saving Notre Dame, versus the issues of concern to the Yellow Vest protesters and other social activists in France.
The Yellow Vests movement began in November of 2018 over a planned substantial hike in motor fuel taxes. The French people are all required to have a yellow vest in their automobiles, for use in a roadside accident or emergency. These vests are inexpensive and easily recognizable, and now the uniform of those protesting a government they believe to be out of touch and overly controlled by wealthy individuals and industries.
President Macron’s predecessor, President Francois Hollande, earlier made the ill-advised move of moving income tax rates on the wealthiest citizens of France to 75 percent to close a then budget gap (2012). Within weeks of passing the huge tax hike, 300 of the wealthiest citizens of France changed their citizenship to nearby tax haven nations including Belgium, Switzerland and Monaco, with low or no income taxes. The French Constitutional Council (equivalent to the U.S. Supreme Court) later struck down the high tax rates, yet several of the wealthiest families in France have yet to return home. Fool me once.
Experts in restoration/historic reconstruction and conservation estimated a much longer process to re-build the great Cathedral. Some forecast 20-years or more, and the government of France is now sponsoring a design competition for what the new/old roof will look like. France no longer has trees tall enough, old enough or long enough to re-build with the ancient growth timbers which made up the original roof.
Large and small gifts will be made to restore Notre Dame, by the world’s wealthiest, the Catholic Church, historic preservationists and I suspect millions more from around the world. The University of Notre Dame, in South Bend, Indiana, has already pledged $100,000 towards the restoration of its namesake, and I expect thousands of Americans will also become generous donors to this cause. In many cases I can forsee French American families and businesses lifting their hearts, minds and checkbooks, contributing considerable green, while the Yellow Vests of France instead raise road blocks, toss Molatov cocktails and perhaps even riot on the streets of Paris.
The Catholic Church has a long-term lease of sorts on the Cathedral of Notre Dame, but the edifice and structure remain the property of the people of France. We hope that President Macron and his Parliament listen more to the quiet voices of generosity and giving, and accept their largesse. The Cathedral had been suffering and in a state of somewhat neglect for decades, the heat and attention of a crisis can re-shape public priorities and opinion. Pray that the logic of a group effort towards saving this shrine outweigh the likely louder, perhaps longer and more contentious voices of accepting the funding, while later misappropriating the purpose and intention of those funds.