Following the disastrous fire of Notre Dame de Paris, heated discussions are taking place in France to decide on how to restore our cathedral.

There are many ideas, with two rough camps: the ones who want an exact replica (or something aligned with the style of the bygone part), and the ones who want a contemporary addition (a glass tower for instance).

When listening to the discussion, people in the latter camp mention that every time there was an update of a church (following an accident (fire, construction), or when making it bigger) the changes were contemporary for that time, and raised controversies because traditions were not kept.

Was that indeed the case? I would mostly be interested in major West European churches first (for the sake of the Notre Dame discussion), but any similar building (that is something which holds a traditional symbol, such as a university for instance) would be fine too.

  • Controversial amongst whom? Churches were often extended, modified and repaired by those with the power to do so. The changes would usually be made using contemporaneous styles and materials. It would be difficult to find evidence of controversy amongst any but the powerful; a feudal peasant's outrage at the new fashion wouldn't be documented anywhere. For example, the continual redesigning of St Paul's by Wren is not well documented britannica.com/biography/Christopher-Wren/… Mar 8, 2020 at 11:42
  • People in our past did not have an obsession with preserving their own past, if that's what you have in mind.
    – Lucian
    Mar 10, 2020 at 2:04

2 Answers 2


The cathedral in Cologne was extensively damages during WW2 and I suspect many churches in Germany, and indeed throughout Europe, had to rebuilt as well. Might be worth a look at the debates that took place then.

They don't seem very modified, at least not to 1950-1960s architecture, so not sure that the modernists have much of a point.

Also, redoing part of say a 13th century church in the 16th century, in 16c style, will have been less of a clash than using modern architecture now. Building materials, if not necessarily building techniques, just didn't change that quickly back then.

I smell a distinct potential for Colonnes de Buren here.

  • en.wikipedia.org/wiki/… describes a contrary case to "don't seem very modified" . Mar 7, 2020 at 19:33
  • @kimchilover perhaps, but was that the norm or the exception? Besides, it's... ugly, Coventry is known for being the worst hit UK town and the country was very short of cash in the 50s so might have been forced to cut corners. Few would want something similar to happen Notre Dame and there is enough money to do it well. Mar 7, 2020 at 19:37
  • @kimchilover correction to my above statement, and to yours: Spence (later knighted for this work) insisted that instead of re-building the old cathedral it should be kept in ruins as a garden of remembrance and that the new cathedral should be built alongside It wasn't an updated building at all. Mar 7, 2020 at 19:45

The restoration of the Sistine Chapel comes to mind. It was done in the 1980s and 1990s.

Before the restoration, everyone was used to the dark colors. There was 400 years of accumulated gunk on them, but they were "the way it was supposed to be".

When the restoration was complete, many traditionalists howled at all the bright colors (even though the colors would supposedly be closer to the original).

No matter what you do, you are going to seriously offend a group of people.

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