Notre Dame Donations Spark Controversy

by Diana Medina

News Editor

Thanks to over a $1 billion in donations, the 850-year-old Notre Dame cathedral, which burned just
last Monday, is looking forward to a complete restoration. With the efforts of over 500 firefighters,
who rushed to the Île de la Cité, the island in the middle of the city, where the cathedral is located,
only the 300-foot spire, which was built in the 19 th century rennovation, has collapsed. Two-thirds of
the roof was destroyed, but the two towers remained. The cathedral’s 150-year-old organ may be
permanently damaged, but the hundreds of pipes that date back centuries were not destroyed. As a
result of the rennovation, its relics and artwork were not present during the fire, and those which were
had been saved and moved to the Louvre. It is still unclear what caused the fire, but two security
guards who first saw the flames reported that they did not notice them until they were six feet high,
indicating the alarm systems were not working.
The current theory is that a short circuit caused the fire, but neither company that was contracted to
restore the church had any workers on site at the time. Naturally, this has given rise to politically-
charged conspiracy theories. French politicians Nicolas Dupont-Aignan, Marine le Pen and Philippe
Karsenty are determined to convince others that the fire was not an accident, but a deliberate act of
terrorism from its Muslim communities. They have been calling it the “European 9/11”, and are using
the accident to make an argument for French nativism and opposition to immigration.
The conspiracy theory is based on an architect of historical monuments’ observation that the 13 th
century beams supporting the roof seemed “too old” to catch fire so quickly. Over 50 investigators are
currently looking into eyewitness accounts and footage of the burning, but have difficulty proving or
disproving the claims since most of the evidence of the cause of the fire has been burned. Judges have
stated that “they are not excluding any hypotheses at this time”
Others have argued that the burning was only one example of the several historical monuments
throughout Europe that are falling into disrepair due to decades of neglect. In the last thirty years, La
Fenice Opera House, the Gran Teatre de Liceu, Turin’s Sindone Chapel of the Holy Shroud, and the
Duchess Anna Amalia library have all been burned, some during rennovation. The head of the Europa
Nostra Heritage Foundation, Sneska Quaedvlieg-Mihailovicis, said it was “as if Notre Dame decided
to set itself on fire to ring the alarm bell. As if she wanted to sacrifice herself for the cause.”
Alternatively, the massive influx of donations towards Notre Dame has been used as an outlet for
French citizens who would like to express their grievances against President Macron, who has already
been called “President of the Rich”. Around 9,000 “yellow vest” protesters have begun demonstrating
in the streets with signs that say “What about the poor?” and “Justice for All”.
“If they are able to give tens of millions to rebuild Notre Dame, then they should stop telling us that
there is no money to counter social inequality,” said Philippe Martinez, head of France’s CGT workers
Internationally, some have even pointed to racism as a potential cause for lack of donations to other
causes, such as Native American land that has been destroyed by frakking, still-undeveloped parts of
Africa, and three black churches in Lousiana that were burned in late March in a hate crime. In the
case of the last tragedy, the generosity towards Notre Dame has inspired donations amounting to $1.8
million to rebuild the three churches: St. Mary Baptist Church, the Greater Union Baptist Church, and
Mount Pleasant Baptist Church. While funds may not be infinite even for the wealthiest citizens, we
may look hope that the successful reconstruction of a symbol of tolerance and charity will inspire both
these qualities in our global community.

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Jo Ann Kirby