The most famous cathedral in France is appealing to American patrons in an effort to find funding for its estimated 179 million dollars of renovation work.
The pearl of French gothic art has been a cornerstone of the country’s national history since 1163, but is now falling into ruin. Its gargoyles are crumbling, and its saints’ faces are growing smooth and featureless with time, pollution, and the crowds of tourists. The Notre-Dame de Paris cathedral is government property, and as such, receives about 2.28 million dollars a year for its upkeep. But this is not enough. As a result, the Friends of Notre-Dame de Paris society has begun appealing to American — and not French — patrons.
Relying on the United States to save French heritage sites is something of a national oddity. There are a number of notable prior examples, including the Château de Versailles, which was falling into disrepair in the 1930s, the Musée d’Orsay, and the Château de Blérancourt, which has stood as a symbol of Franco-American friendship since World War I. But while we wait for U.S. philanthropists to rush to the aid of Notre-Dame, a handful of ultra-rich French businessmen are building museums in honor of their personal glory in Paris, such as Bernard Arnault’s Fondation Louis Vuitton, and François Pinault’s future museum located in the former Commodities Exchange building.
The French are therefore not lacking financial means, but rather philanthropic spirit — at least the richest among them. Those in more modest situations are more generous. When I was president of the French branch of the charity Action Against Hunger, I received donations of a few euros every single day. But when I turned to the wealthiest for contributions, I was met with silence. There are many explanations for the miserliness of the richest French citizens. Some are fiscal, although this theory is easily disproved as businesses in France can also deduct their donations from their taxes.
We must therefore look for the reason in culture and religion. Successful Americans consider that they have been lucky, whether this blessing is divine or otherwise, and that they should therefore give something back to their community. Wealthy French people think they deserve their riches, and feel no moral obligation to give anything back whatsoever. But who is right? God only knows, as he counts the members of his flock from the towers of Notre-Dame.