France: What Will Be the Liturgical Furnishings for Notre-Dame de Paris?

January 30, 2023

A press release from the diocese of Paris published on January 3, 2023 on the feast of St. Geneviève, patron saint of Paris, revealed the names of the five candidates selected – including a father-son pair – to present a project for the future liturgical furnishings of Notre-Dame Cathedral – Our Lady of Paris. Candidates will submit their proposals before the end of May 2023.

After having received the opinion of the Artistic Committee, and in compliance with the attributions of the National Commission for Heritage and Architecture (CNPA), Msgr. Laurent Ulrich, Archbishop of Paris, will announce the name of the winner in the summer of 2023. As specified in the press release, the request for proposal includes the five essential elements of the future liturgical furnishings of the cathedral: the altar, the ambo, the cathedra, the tabernacle, and the baptistery.

“The ability of the proposed works to evoke the mystery of God through the Catholic faith, to serve for times to come the beauty of the liturgical life of Notre-Dame de Paris cathedral, while respecting the centuries-old heritage of the cathedral, the sacredness, and the deep vocation of each object will be decisive in the choice of the Archbishop of Paris,” it is explained.

The Five Candidates

Who are the successful candidates and what projects will they propose? The officially compiled presentation of their training and their achievements allows one to form an idea.

Born in 1976, Constance Guisset is a French designer. After studying economics and business at ESSEC and IEP Paris, then a year at the Tokyo Parliament, she graduated in 2007 from ENSCI - Les Ateliers, and founded her studio.

Born in 1958 into a family of artists, Nicolas Alquin is a sculptor who develops his artistic lexicon according to two main vectors: wood in direct carving; beeswax modeled from the block, then cast in bronze. His son Marc Alechinsky, born in 1989, is an architect and designer by training.

Born in 1971, Guillaume Bardet is a French designer. A graduate of the National School of Decorative Arts (ENSAD) in Paris, he obtained a residency at the Villa Medici in Rome and a scholarship from the French Academy in Rome. He has carried out several major projects, including “La Fabrique du Present, La Cène” [the Making of the Present, the Last Supper] at the Dominican Convent Sainte-Marie de La Tourette (Rhône), in 2017.

Born in 1957, Pascal Convert is a French visual artist, writer and director. In 1989, he was a resident of the Villa Medici. He worked on site at the Bamiyan Buddhas, and again in Armenia, on the destruction of major archaeological and artistic works. In 2003, he created a work in homage to French resistance fighters shot at Mont Valérien (Hauts-de-Seine). In 2009, he designed the stained glass windows for the Saint-Gildas-des-Bois church (Loire-Atlantique).

Laurent Grasso, born in 1972, is a French artist who graduated from the Ecole Nationale des Beaux-Arts in Paris and was a resident of the Villa Medici in 2004. His work explores the notions of beliefs and rituals, drawing on the inframince (imperceptible interval) which binds the terrestrial world to that of the mysteries that he tries to grasp, in order to reveal and materialize the invisible that surrounds us. Laurent Grasso is currently the subject of a monographic exhibition Anima at the Collège des Bernardins, in Paris.

But while waiting for the proposals of these candidates, we already know what the ecclesiastical person in charge of the new interior layout of the cathedral wishes.

Associating the Faithful

After the fire at Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris, Fr. Gilles Drouin received the mission in June 2019 to propose a new interior layout for the cathedral. Director of the Higher Institute of Liturgy of the Catholic Institute of Paris and adviser to the Archbishop of Paris, he insists on the presence of a baptistery at the entrance to the nave.

Especially since visitors, from now on, will enter the building through the central portal, discovering the axis of the great nave. For him, “the idea is to associate the faithful with the celebration, in accordance with the Second Vatican Council and the ongoing process of a more synodal Church.”

Questioned by La Croix on December 27, 2022, he argues: “The Mass is not a theatrical performance, with the priests on a stage and spectators foreign to the Eucharistic mystery. We have to find how to honor the baptismal dimension of everyone, bishop, priests, and faithful, and to articulate the choir and the nave.”

We will know next summer whether this “articulation” of the choir and the nave will lead to an architectural and liturgical disarticulation.