Notre Dame in flames…

07:54 by Cornelius Holtorf

From a human perspective, it is understandable that people feel emotional about the building of Notre Dame in flames. Since 1991, Notre Dame has been part of the UNESCO World Heritage site of the Banks of the Seine of Paris. However, as heritage experts we should not become too sentimental about what happened. Our task is to understand historical changes and transformations as they unfold and to manage the implications for the future.

It is quite conceivable that Notre Dame will be even more visited and appreciated in the future, while recovery and restoration and reconstruction work will be conducted over the coming years.

As Medievalist Dorothy Kim at Brandeis University expressed in a recent message, there is also a real possibility that “the far right is already promulgating conspiracy theories that this is basically the work of religious outsiders (i.e. Islamaphobia and Antisemitism) and that the burning of Notre Dame is a sign that western civilization and the values of the Christian West are under attack.” So, let us not commiserate ourselves too much for the loss to Western civilization or Christianity or Medieval Catholicism or French culture.

As Kim argued, the unexpected fire in Notre Dame should be seen as our opportunity to reinvent the church for the future. Let’s make this heritage into a monument of our resilience to overcome challenges together.

Whether we are Parisians or Christians or heritage experts or tourists or other interested audiences from around the world, the church can come to symbolise a shared determination to look forward to where all those valuing the building want to go together. Let us remember that the purpose of the World Heritage programme is first and foremost to contribute to UNESCO’s overarching aim to build peace in the world.

Cornelius Holtorf
In 2017, Linnaeus University in Kalmar, Sweden, was awarded a UNESCO Chair on Heritage Futures. This is one of eight Chairs in Sweden, and the only one within the cultural sector. Cornelius Holtorf, holder of the UNESCO Chair, alongside Anders Högberg and Sarah May, will continue to generate ideas through this forum.

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