The restoration campaign in the wake of a fire that decimated parts of the iconic Notre Dame cathedral is due to get a helping hand from Disney. The building, a fixture of the Paris skyline for centuries, suffered serious structural damage when it caught fire on the evening of 15th April, the beginning of Holy Week, when the building would have traditionally seen a flurry of activity in preparation for Easter.
Although alarms went off early on Monday evening, the blaze was only discovered after the second alarm sounded at 6.43pm. Fire fighters managed to stop the flames reaching the building’s gothic bell towers, and many onlookers, both within France and around the world, were relieved when it was announced that the structure of the cathedral had been saved. However, the interior endured considerable damage from the fire, ensuring the building is due to be closed to the general public for years to come.
Many of France’s wealthy elites donated to the rebuilding cause, along with members of the French public and international supporters. Disney, who in 1996 drew attention to the building with its release of the animated film The Hunchback of Notre Dame, based on the novel by Victor Hugo, are said to be giving $5 million to the restoration project.
A statement from Disney CEO Bob Iger claimed that, “Notre-Dame is a beacon of hope and beauty that has defined the heart of Paris and the soul of France for centuries, inspiring awe and reverence for its art and architecture and for its enduring place in human history. The Walt Disney Company stands with our friends and neighbours in the community, offering our heartfelt support as well as a $5 million donation for the restoration of this irreplaceable masterpiece.”
All these efforts have not been without criticism, with some commentators claiming that Notre Dame had been in need of restoration for a long time, and that it should not have taken a catastrophe of this magnitude to generate funds for the building. On the flipside, some have pointed out that the immense reserves of wealth owned by the Catholic church should be enough to restore the building, and that any donations should be going to other more pressing causes in France, a country that has experienced high levels of deprivation and social inequality in recent years.
Perhaps fittingly, the extent to which Notre Dame’s structural needs were being ignored was the aim of Hugo’s novel, published in 1831, the story of which was designed to draw attention to what the author saw as the neglect of a national treasure.
So far, extensive questioning by the French police has showed only that an electrical short circuit may have caused the fire, and that it is unlikely to have been deliberate; yet they claim that “all leads must be explored.” Regardless of its cause, the attention the fire has brought to Notre Dame will be sure to have fulfilled Hugo’s hopes for more attention being given to the building’s needs.