Paying up

Enormous donations follow the gutting of Notre Dame cathedral in Paris

The sight of the spire of Notre Dame cathedral in Paris toppling into the burning body of the 850-year-old building live on TV was haunting.

The fire spread quickly, shocking Parisians gathering on the bridges over the River Seine that surrounded the island on which the cathedral stands.

The French president, Emmanuel Macron, spoke of how part of the heart of every French man and woman was burning.

It seemed that the very historic consciousness of France was alight.

The old, rich families of France were quick to respond with pens poised above chequebooks to support the restoration of Notre Dame.

The Kering luxury group, home to brands such as Gucci and Balenciaga, pledged $113m. L’Oreal offered $226m. Disney, who produced the 1996 film ‘The Hunchback of Notre Dame’, pledged $5m. Others joined in, with oil giant Total also giving $113m.

But eyebrows have been raised at these huge sums of money.

Paris is a city with more than 3,000 people sleeping on the streets, according to the French capital’s own census on homelessness.

Could this fund for the cathedral provide more shelters, more hot food and drink, more help to them to get back on their feet?

And what about trying to improve the quality of life and the life chances of children growing up in the underdeveloped corners of French cities?

There must be money to restore Notre Dame: it is one of the world’s top visitor attractions with historical connections to nations across the globe.

But there are also other causes to fight for.

Art has been destroyed and literature burnt throughout human civilisation and the destruction of ideas and imagination is a real threat to human culture.

But a civilised humanity requires a focus on humans themselves, as well as the culture they create.

Notre Dame has been damaged before, being bombed in the First World War, and there is an ambition among the authorities in Paris to try to rebuild it in time for the 2024 Summer Olympic Games in the city.

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