Wednesday 29 April 2020

Notre-Dame : A short history of the meaning of cathedrals

Notre-dameby Ken Follett

On April 15, 2019, Notre-Dame was burning. The historic cathedral, a landmark in human consciousness, that has sat on the banks of the Seine for most of our modern history was engulfed in flame and the people of Paris, and the people of the world could do nothing more than watch. This is a snapshot in time, barely a blink in the life of this cathedral, and yet it is one that had a monumental impact.

This book begins in 2019 and from there, Ken Follett takes the readers on a whirlwind trip through time. The book promises ‘a short history of the meaning of cathedrals,’ but we only explore the one, Notre-Dame. From 2019 we go back in time back to a point that vaguely resembles the beginning, the year 1163. Though there were churches that stood on this before came to be as we know it. Follett does not get into the details, but rather brief moments in time to inspire curiosity. The bishop that ordered the new cathedral, the architects that designed it, the etchings on the tracing room floor, the masons that built it. A hundred years pass in the blink of an eye to bring the cathedral to what we remember it to be.

Stepping into 1831 Victor Hugo appears and with him the popularization of Notre Dame. The book that Notre-Dame inspired Hugo to write, titled Notre-Dame de Paris, or, The Hunchback of Notre-Dame helped form the perception of the church in the hearts and minds of people who would never lay eyes on it themselves. Blink and you’ll find yourself in 1844 to the construction of the spire that comes crashing down in 2019. And follow Charles De Gaulle’s historic march down Champs-Élysées to Notre-Dame in the aftermath of the Second World War.

This book is not very long and does more to inspire curiosity and further research than fill in the gaps. That being said, if you’ve ever found yourself wanting to know more about gothic
cathedrals, Notre-Dame, or perhaps architectural history Ken Follett’s, Notre-Dame, is a great place to start.

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