In 2017, a welter of stories appeared in the international press pointing out the brokenness of Paris’s Notre Dame. Cathedral officials showed journalists how patches of limestone would crumble at a finger’s touch. Gargoyles that had lost their heads were patched up with plastic pipes, while fallen balustrades were replaced with wooden planks. All this decay was caused by pollution, acid rain and eight centuries of use – but also official neglect was to blame. Keepers of the building had begged for more money, but neither the belt-tightening French government nor the wealthy grumbling about higher taxes gave enough.
Then came Holy Week 2019 and the inferno by the Seine and all of a sudden, nobody can give too much. After years of preaching the shrinking of the public sector, the French president, Emmanuel Macron, now wants to mobilise the full resources of the state to get the roofless cathedral rebuilt within just five years. And money from France’s billionaire class keeps raining down. In three days, the cathedral has been pledged €100m (£86m) from Francois-Henri Pinault, the ultimate owner of Gucci and Yves Saint Laurent; €200m (£172m) from the Arnault family of Louis Vuitton fame; another €200m from L’Oreal owners the Bettencourt Meyers family, and €100m from French oil giant Total.
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