Notre-Dame: A Short History of the Meaning of Cathedrals by Ken Follett

(London: Pan, 2019), 112

This book is Ken Follett's response to the tragic fire at Notre Dame in 2019. This is a beautiful reflection on the significance of the great cathedrals by the man who's Pillars of the Earth ignited my own interest in cathedrals. It intrigues me that he writes so beautifully about cathedrals (and attends church services) without himself believing in God. This itself is evidence of the transcendent power and beauty of these great monuments.


Chapter 1

  • >I'm not a religious believer, yet despite that I go to church. I love the architecture, the music, the words of the Bible, and the sense of sharing something profound with other people. I have long found deep spiritual peace in the great cathedrals, as do many millions of people,, believers and nonbelievers alike.

Chapter 2

  • The period 950-1250 was the "medieval climatic anomaly", contributing to medieval emergence from the Dark Ages (18)

Chapter 3

  • Victor Hugo's The Hunchback of Notre-Dame (32)

Chapter 4

  • Eugène Voillet-le-Duc restored Notre Dame in the 19th Century
  • Voillet-le-Duc's Encyclopédie Médiévale (41)

Chapter 5

  • Charles de Gaulle's procession to Notre Dame at the end of World War II

Chapter 6

  • "[a cathedral] is so rich that at first is overwhelms us" (56): I remember having a distinct distaste for Gothic architecture initially, until I came to understand it more
  • Medieval illustrations of the Tower of Babel give is information about how cathedrals were built (57-58)
  • 2021-08-29-The Cathedral Builders was one of the books that inspired Follett to write 2015-12-31-The Pillars of the Earth. It turns out that Jean Gimpel lived on his street in London and signed on as a consultant for the book and became his friend. (58)
  • Authors inspired by the great cathedrals (59):
    • Hugo is the greatest
    • The Chronicles of Barsetshire by Anthony Trollope
    • The Spire by William Golding
    • Murder in the Cathedral by T. S. Eliot
    • Cathedral by Nelson DeMille
  • Cathedrals were never the mastermind of a single person, like the producer of a movie: “for me the cathedral is about what people can achieve when they work together” (60)
  • Cathedrals are like a space launch: it involved the whole of society, spurred technological development, brought economic benefits...and yet when you add up all the practical reasons they’re not quite enough to explain why we did it: has the spiritual element, it was done for the glory of God (61)
    • medieval builders made the unseen parts just as beautiful since they were seen by God

Topic: Gothic Architecture

Created: 2021-08-28-Sat
Updated: 2023-01-23-Mon