he billionaire French donors who publicly promised flashy donations totaling hundreds of millions to rebuild Notre Dame have not yet paid a penny towards the restoration of the French national monument, according to church and business officials.
Instead, it’s been mainly American and French citizens, via charitable foundations at Notre Dame, that have footed the bills and paid salaries for the up to 150 workers employed by the cathedral since the April 15 fire that devastated the cathedral’s roof and caused its masterpiece spire to collapse. This month they are handing over the first payment for the cathedral’s reconstruction of 3.6 million euros ($4 million).
“The big donors haven’t paid. Not a cent,” said Andre Finot, senior press official at Notre Dame. “They want to know what exactly their money is being spent on and if they agree to it before they hand it over, and not just to pay employees’ salaries.”
Almost $1 billion was promised by some of France’s richest and most powerful families and companies, some of whom sought to outbid each other, in the hours and days after the inferno. It prompted criticism that the donations were as much about the vanity of the donors wishing to be immortalised in the edifice’s fabled stones than the preservation of church heritage.
Francois Pinault of Artemis, the parent company of Kering that owns Gucci and Saint Laurent, promised 100 million euros, while Patrick Pouyanne, CEO of French energy company Total, said his firm would match that figure. Bernard Arnault, CEO of luxury giant LVMH that owns Louis Vuitton and Dior, pledged 200 million euros, as did the Bettencourt Schueller Foundation of the L’Oreal fortune.
No money has been seen, according to Finot, as the donors wait to see how the reconstruction plans progress and fight it out over contracts. The reality on the ground is that work has been continuing around the clock for weeks and, with no legal financial mechanism in place to pay the workers, the cathedral has been reliant on the charity foundation.
The Friends of Notre-Dame de Paris president, Michel Picaud, estimates that 90% of the donations it has received have come from American donors.
The first check towards the rebuilding, accounting for the “first stage of restorations” according to Picaud, is currently being transferred by the foundation for a sum of 3.6 million euros. It includes funds from mainly small French donors, collected by the linked Notre-Dame Foundation.
A spokesperson for the Pinault Collection acknowledged that the Pinault family hadn’t yet handed over any money, blaming that on a delay in contracts. The LVMH Group and the Arnault family said that it would also be working with the Friends of Notre-Dame and that “the payments will be made as the work progresses”.
Total has pledged to pay its 100 million euros via the Heritage Foundation, whose Director General Celia Verot, confirmed the multinational company has not paid a penny yet and is waiting to see what the plans are and if they are in line with each company’s particular vision before they transfer the money.
While the clean-up and consolidation work currently underway is hugely important, it does not fit that description, said a foundation official,who wished to remain anonymous. It suggests the wealthy donors want their money to go toward long-lasting, immortalising structures and not on ephemeral, but equally vital, cleaning and securing of the site that also still poses a real health risk for Parisians.
The Bettencourt Schueller Foundation said it, too, hasn’t handed over the money because it wants to ensure it’s spent on causes that fit the foundation’s specific ethos, which supports craftsmanship in art.