Notre Dame’s place in history | Letters

Readers respond to the plans to rebuild the French cathedral

Andrew Anderson (Letters, 18 April) is quite right to point out that nobody died in the conflagration at Notre Dame. Compared with the disaster at Grenfell Tower, the spectacle of billionaires falling over themselves to donate their pocket money to the restoration fund, not to mention the deafening silence from the Vatican, can seem obscene.

However, Notre Dame, like all beautiful and ancient buildings, is a tangible connection with past generations, a kind of living European history, to millions of people of all faiths and none. When I sing in a concert in our ancient cathedral or in any of the city’s medieval churches, I have a strong sense that the stones are soaked with the music and voices of our ancestors. That life-affirming experience is surely worth more than the dismissive phrase “only a building”.
Dr Brigid Purcell

• Utterly tragic as the fire engulfing Notre Dame Cathedral was, it may have a silver lining. Europe is in the grip of a restoration skills crisis. Many of the continent’s historic buildings are threatened by a deficit in the specialist skills required to restore and preserve them. In the UK, for example, while 91% of the public believe our iconic treasures should be preserved for future generations, 83% do not know what a historic building surveyor does, and only 10% of 18- to 24-year-olds can describe the role of a stonemason. Indeed, there has been a 30% decline in the number of school leavers entering traditional crafts and skills apprenticeships since 1994. Despite our love for these buildings, a seeming unwillingness exists among young people to pursue careers in sectors so important in preserving them.

Let us hope that a high-profile, continent-wide effort to restore Notre Dame “inspires a generation” of heritage restoration career vocations, the results of which could constitute a desperately needed injection of enthusiasm in restoration projects across the continent. The Royal Collection Trust’s Queen’s Bindery Apprenticeship, and the Prince’s Foundation School of Traditional Arts embody successful schemes designed to tackle this shortage of specialist skills. Those who feel a responsibility to preserve our heritage should encourage people of all ages to enrol on schemes such as these.
Will Gillow
St Hugh’s College, Oxford

• So, Macron’s constructeurs can rebuild Notre Dame in five years. Perhaps he can lend a few to his Catalan neighbours so they can complete Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia – 137 years and counting.
Clifton Melvin
Chalfont St Giles, Buckinghamshire

• Oh for goodness sake! Read William Golding’s The Spire. Design a different roof minus the grandiosity of a spire. Unless it acts as a lightning conductor or has a genuine function. I doubt God would mind. Get creative!
Jenny Powell
Storrington, West Sussex

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