Subtitled A Short History of the Meaning of Cathedrals, this short book NOTRE-DAME contains an essay prompted by Ken Follet’s experience of watching Notre-Dame de Paris burn one year ago. We all shared that experience around the world, but this historian and fiction author had not only written about the construction of a great medieval cathedral, he had written about one burning down.
The Pillars of the Earth is Ken Follet’s most popular book and, he acknowledges, probably his best work. He tells us how he spent three and a half years writing it, a murder mystery, historical drama, social study, character portraits and observations on international travel and construction of architecture during the medieval period. This stretch of his labour pales; however, by contrast with the time required actually to build Notre Dame, and the author walks us through the stages. The great Gothic cathedral we know replaced an earlier version which had become too small for its Parisian congregation and clergy. We learn where the stone was quarried, how the plans were drawn, who did the planning and construction. Women were involved in the work, likely wives of masons, doing plastering. As the project took almost a century, probably nobody saw the start and the finish.
Victor Hugo was one of the greatest writers to have been inspired by the cathedral, and we learn his story and how he created literature shocking for its day. Hugo set The Hunchback of Notre-Dame in a period before the Revolution, but the cathedral had been damaged by vandalism and used as storage during the Revolution and we learn that the book drew many visitors who inspired a restoration effort.
If there’s anything you didn’t know about this wonderful building you will probably find it in NOTRE-DAME, condensed, an easy read and presented with the beauty and homage for which this great historical author is renowned. And if you feel inspired to read more about a generations-long construction project, undertaken for reasons not just religious but also financial and boastful, and the very ordinary and humble craftsmen, you could do no better than to pick up Ken Follet’s ‘Kingsbridge’ books, which are surely due another read in my house. Proceeds from NOTRE-DAME will go to the rebuilding effort.
“The wonderful cathedral of Notre-Dame de Paris, one of the greatest achievements of European civilization, was on fire. The sight dazed and disturbed us profoundly. I was on the edge of tears. Something priceless was dying in front of our eyes. The feeling was bewildering, as if the earth was shaking.”—Ken Follett
In this short, spellbinding book, international bestselling author Ken Follett describes the emotions that gripped him when he learned about the fire that threatened to destroy one of the greatest cathedrals in the world—the Notre-Dame de Paris. Follett then tells the story of the cathedral, from its construction to the role it has played across time and history, and he reveals the influence that the Notre-Dame had upon cathedrals around the world and on the writing of one of Follett’s most famous and beloved novels, The Pillars of the Earth.
Ken Follett will donate his proceeds from this book to the charity La Fondation du Patrimoine.