Rebuilding Notre Dame

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17 April 2019

By Jack Mitchell

Over the past few days, the world has stood alongside Paris in mourning over the tragic fires which have destroyed major parts of the Notre Dame Cathedral in one of the capital city’s central districts.

Notre Dame: A Tragedy

Politicians, celebrities and public figures have sent their condolences alongside kind words to a nation in mourning. With around 13 million people visiting the Notre Dame annually, this gothic-landmark is central to France’s culture and tourism. Firefighters risked their lives by remaining inside the cathedral to create a wall of water to prevent the flames from reaching the iconic towers of the west facade.

The French president, Emmanuel Macron, has already announced he wants to see Notre Dame rebuilt “more beautiful than before – [and in] the next five years”. This is indeed a tragedy for the nation, and seeing people share personal tourist pictures outside the iconic building made its loss all-the-more tangible.

Donations from Around the World

However, when you hear news of the donations from various sources around the world to aid the restoration effort mounting up to over €800m (£692m), you have to start asking questions. It brings to mind the time Stormzy asked: ‘Theresa May, where’s the money for Grenfell?” at the 2018 Brit Awards. Multinational corporations have money set aside for a building – albeit a beautiful and valuable one – that is owned by the French state and used by the Roman Catholic Church, yet are more-or-less apathetic towards assisting a tragedy that directly affected hundreds of people.

We are witnessing increasing economic inequality around the world, with a bigger wealth gap caused largely by billionaires refusing to pay tax. In light of the Gilets Jaunes protest that highlighted the need to address austerity, it seems ironic that the elite are able to provide the necessary funds to repair Notre Dame. The amount of money donated dwarfs the amount raised in the aftermath of the Grenfell Tower fire in London – most of which was raised by British Red Cross – in which over 70 lives were lost.

While this remains a devastating loss for Paris, France and indeed for world heritage in general, the swift, generous response of some the world’s richest people highlights the flaws in our system. Should we not be focussing our efforts on issues like poverty over a centuries-old relic representative of past ideologies? That is not to say that religion has no place in the world, nor should the building remain a blackened shadow of its former self. However, it shows that those who hold the power and wealth are more concerned with helping the establishment than the masses.

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