History as it Happens: Notre Dame and the Nine Lives of Gothic Cathedrals (Episode #61)

We put the disastrous fire at Notre Dame de Paris into historical perspective — by considering the history of Gothic cathedrals, their cosmic religious meanings, and their remarkably powerful and mysterious construction. How did medieval builders create these massive, complex structures without steel, steam power, electricity, or even written plans? We also follow the tumultuous experiences of Notre Dame itself, the social and symbolic center of Paris–from religious riots and Revolutionary iconoclasm to malign neglect and controversial restorations. Finally, we consider the resilience of Gothic buildings through fire, lightning, earthquake, war, and revolution, and ask what other important monuments or community buildings we should support in our own communities.

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Intro music: Domenico Scarlatti, “Fandango,” played by Genoveva Galvez; used by permission of Ensayo Records. Image: Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption, Port-au-Prince, Haiti, immediately after the 2010 earthquake.

Suggested Further reading: John Fitchen, “The Construction of Gothic Cathedrals”; Otto von Simson, “The Gothic Cathedral”; Knoop and Jones, “The Mediaeval Mason”

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