Notre Dame fire and restoration of religious sites

I think we’ve all heard by now about the fire at Notre Dame cathedral in Paris. Talk about restoration work has already begun, and it has me wondering: will they rebuild it as closely as possible to the original, or will they go with more modern designs or materials?

I could see it going either way. It’s not the first time this has happened. St Peter’s in Rome burned down in the Renaissance and was rebuilt in the then-contemporary style. The idea of historical preservation of buildings is fairly recent, and was in part inspired by Notre Dame itself (and the novel that was written about it).

So a historical reconstruction would be a propos to the building itself. On the other hand, Notre Dame is not a historical artifact; it’s still very much in use as a church. So there’s an argument to be made that a restoration should reflect the living community.

This also got me thinking more broadly about restoration of religious sites. I was reminded of an old documentary about restoring Tibetan temple paintings, particularly this bit:


Sanday’s conservators did not intend to restore areas where painted images had flaked or eroded away, but in some cases they needed to rebuild and prepare sections of walls for painting or line drawing. The Raja, or King, of Mustang and the townspeople of Lo Monthang stressed that they wanted to worship entire, not incomplete divinities. It was agreed that, in order to meet international restoration standards while accommodating the wishes of the local people, some of the lost areas would be plastered and painted, to form linkages and continuity across small gaps. More expansive lost areas, often the lower portions, were completed only as line drawings without color fill, however, in order to restore the functional integrity of the paintings without attempting a “restoration.”

So there was disagreement there between the ‘preserve as-is’ attitude of the conservators and the local people’s view of the paintings as part of their current religious practices.

Does anyone else have thoughts on this?

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