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Thoughts on Notre Dame

It was a terrible sight, to see Notre Dame cathedral engulfed in flames last Monday evening. I was glued to the TV, gasping when the spire fell and hoping the fire could be controlled before the towers were affected.

We were in Paris last summer. Notre Dame looked beautiful, as we drifted by on one of the boats that cruise up and down the Seine. Ten years previously, Dougie and I visited Paris for the first time with our son, Rory, who was 12 at the time. I hunted out his photos from that trip to see the interior photos of the magnificent stained-glass windows.

In the aftermath of the fire, we know the damage is great but thankfully not quite as devastating as it could have been. Nevertheless, the debate about how to restore the cathedral has become a huge news story, probably more so with the event happening in Easter week.

In many ways it's heartening that there is a collective wish to resurrect the cathedral but I do find it unsettling to hear of the millions that are pouring in to save a building, no matter how iconic it is.

Emmanuel Macron wants the cathedral repaired in five years. Many speculate it will take far longer. Whatever the timescale, it is going to take a vast amount of money and if they intend to replace the wooden roof, a huge number of oak trees.

Many castles in the UK have pledged some of their historic oaks to the project. Belvoir Castle, Doddington Hall and Holkham Hall have all offered to help replace the 1,300 that were required when the cathedral was constructed in the 12th century.

At a time of concern about climate change, should we be considering uprooting our own valuable trees? In their defence, the owners say the trees are from sustainable forestry and were destined to be used as commercial timber anyway.

But maybe there needs to be a wider discussion about how we restore ancient buildings. Why do we feel we must have ancient oaks and hand-crafted stone? Do we have to replace the roof with another wooden one, prone to the same fire risk as before?

I understand there will be an architectural competition to design a new spire for Notre Dame. As it was only a mid-19th century addition to the cathedral, it seems officials are happy for a new design, with contemporary materials, to replace it.

So why not use new materials and construction techniques to replace the roof? That might be just as impressive as a carbon copy of the original. Just think of the glass pyramid which takes pride of place in the Louvre, a short distance away. Or Norman Foster's incredible glass dome which attracts thousands of visitors to the Reichstag in Berlin without detracting from the rest of the building which was sympathetically restored at the same time.

Preservation of our heritage is important but I'm uneasy about the considerable cost to restore Notre Dame. Maybe those millions can be put to better use.

You can read Trish's blog at www.mumsgoneto.co.uk

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