THE smell of charred wood lingers all around Notre Dame and barriers keep workers and gawkers far apart as vital make-safe methods are applied.

It hasn’t stopped these tourists, though, who still come in droves to gaze at this jewel in the Gothic crown of architecture – Our Lady of Paris, whose presence has comforted centuries of French men and women.

In a country over blessed, one might say, with cathedrals, chateaux and world heritage sites, nothing tugs at the heart and soul more than Notre Dame.

A miracle, say many, as they stare at the substantial remains of the incendiary which devoured the roof and toppled the spire last month.

In their minds’ eye is the glowing image of the altar cross which beckoned hope out of the rubble around it.

A triumph of master masonry say the less devout who study the building, calculating the enormity of restoration.

In their minds’ eye is the now covered disappeared roof; its lost structure – 800-year-old oak beams which burned as fierce as dried tinder pyramided for the first stove fire of the year.

On the day after the fire President Macron, who performs superbly on dramatic occasions, told the nation that the Old Lady would be rebuilt within five years.

In time, noted the cynical, for the showcase of the Paris Olympics. He announced that an international architectural competition would be opened for the restoration of the spire.

And he made it clear that he hoped a ‘contemporary art gesture’ would be found in the ‘reconstruction’ of Notre Dame.

Blinded, perhaps, still by the sight of those towering flames it took a day or two for the impact of his words to penetrate to the general public.

Now it is hard to pass a public place without a petition to sign demanding a classical return to its original state in line with the rules and regulations, both French and international, that govern the restoration of historic buildings.

Already an amendment to a draft law on reconstruction passed by the French National Assembly’s legal commission, demanding such, has been rejected.

Yesterday that draft law was due to be debated and many harsh words could be exchanged.

It is far too simple to say the conservative right, the Catholic traditionalists and old are against the young, liberal elite in demanding the status quo contra Macron’s desire to fix his place in history with a startling 21st century addition.

And yet, a look at French social media, the heavier newspapers and the many discussion programmes on both TV and radio, encourages such a crude division.

The historical changes over the cathedral’s history are nit-picked to show that Notre Dame has always evolved – victim or hero of the times.

She’s been kicked about, desecrated in Revolutionary anger and worst of all, ignored by successive governments in pleas for aid as she’s crumbled and deteriorated from sheer age.

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Now she is centre stage again and were her ancient soul to take human form she would be pondering the newly released plans for her created by excited architects answering Macron’s call.

There’s the glass roof and spire offering a gigantic greenhouse where the unemployed could raise vegetables and fruit; the

crazy distorted representation of flame spire; the arches and balls mess wrapped around a central staircase; the, not unpleasant, roof and spire of stained glass; and the soaring glass spire topped with a seemingly endless laser beam of light reaching to God himself.

The true professionals, 1700 curators, architects, professors and other experts published an op-ed in Le Figaro warning Macron of the protection laws and France’s long tradition of exemplary restoration.

I find myself asking all I meet what they would like to see for Notre Dame.

Miriam points out the many, many churches left to rot – for the state owns all religious buildings and rents them back to the church (part of the great secular division).

It is the classic response to ‘Paris’ arrogance. However, she also wants a return to how it was.

The few immigrant Anglos I ask, side-line the discussion, sneering at the multi-millionaires coming forward with restoration cash for ‘tax breaks’ as people starve in the street.

They eye me blankly when I talk of the pinnacle of civilisation; the need for both buildings and human care; the folly of contemporary at all costs in the rush to modernise.

Notre Dame is far, far, more than a Catholic enclave to honour a God who only welcomes His own.

She is a marvel of man’s desire to strive for perfection with each chisel of his basic implement; each curve of his statue; each deep sigh of exhaustion on dropping to his pallet at night.

Notre Dame is part of all of us – a unifying symbol of a time when as the horrors unfolded all around, she went up and up and up in gracious symmetry.

The horrors are unfolding again in Europe and once again we need a focus of hope and continuity.

And beauty. Always beauty.