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New modern stained-glass windows to be installed in Notre Dame

As the restoration of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris continues at a steady pace after the devastating fire that ravaged the Gothic masterpiece on April 15, 2019, the French Government appoints a committee of experts to select projects of new modern-style stained-glass windows to replace the existing ones in six of its chapels.

By Vianney Groussin and Lisa Zengarini

It is an iconic symbol of France’s religious, artistic and cultural heritage worldwide, and the image of this masterpiece of Gothic architecture engulfed in flames has remained impressed in our collective memory.

The fire broke out just before 6:20 pm of April 15,  2019, bringing down the cathedral’s famous spire (“la flèche”), destroying most of the wooden roof and severely damaging the cathedral’s upper wall.  

The fire ravaging Notre-Dame de Paris on 15 April 2019

The fire ravaging Notre-Dame de Paris on 15 April 2019

However, the bell towers – whose collapse would have almost certainly brought down the facade – were saved from the blaze by firefighters along with the Grand Organ and its stained-glass rosette windows. The bee hives on the roof also survived the fire and many works of art, ancient books and religious relics were saved in extremis, firefighters, police and city council workers, though others suffered smoke damage.  Two days after the disaster, French president Emmanuel Macron vowed to reconstruct the medieval cathedral within five years. By September 2021, donors had contributed over 840 million Euros to this huge rebuilding effort.

The Cathedral to be solemnly reopenned on 8 December 2024, after five years of work

Five years on, the reconstruction is well on schedule and the Cathedral is set to be solemnly reopened on December 8, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, with a Mass of consecration of the altar presided over the Archbishop of Paris Laurent Ulrich. In December 2023 he announced that the event will be preceded and followed by a number of initiatives running until the Pentecost in June 2025, during the Jubilee year.

New modern-style stained-glass windows in six chapels

Meanwhile, the French Government has recently appointed a special committee of experts chaired by Bernard Blistène, former director of the National Museum of Modern Art at the Pompidou Centre, to select the projects presented by artists for some of the modern style stained-glass to be installed in some of its windows.

The idea of replacing the old glass with stained glass designed by contemporary artist was launched last year by Archbishop Ulrich to leave a mark of the restoration work, The proposal has been endorsed by  President Emmanuel Macron, although it has met with some criticism.

The government-appointed committee will have time until the end of May 2024  to examine the various projects which will have to meet very specific criteria.  According to the specifications of the public tender, the glass works will have to produce a “neutral light, of the same nature, colour and intensity, as that currently provided by the current windows”.

However, unlike the current arrangement, where only one of the seven chapels on the south side has “an historical” stained-glass window (the  “Saint Thomas Aquinas” chapel housing a window depicting the Tree of Jesse, which will remain as it is), the six new stained-glass windows should be figurative, whereas those produced in the late 19th century under the direction of French architect Eugène Viollet-le-Duc only represented floral and geometric motifs.

Under the sign of the Holy Spirit

The directives also require that the windows which will adorn the “Pentecost alley” formed by the south aisle, be consistent with this theme and offer a “sober representation” of the biblical event.

In choosing the colours artists are also advised to take into account the stained-glass window of the Tree of Jesse (representing the he human genealogy of Jesus from King David’s father to Mary, ed.) which will be placed in the middle between the contemporary stained-glass windows, as well as the “light blondness of the stone of Notre-Dame”.

New windows to be installed in 2026

A first selection will take place in June 2024, before the final choice in November. The new windows will not be installed before 2026, but a prototype will be presented for the reopening of Notre-Dame on December 8

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