Sunday, May 26, 2019

Notre-Dame de Paris, Part 2: Exterior Features--and a Giveaway!

By Joan Hochstetler

View of Notre-Dame de Paris by Gilbert Bochenek (2011)
The Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris was in the news last month because of the fire that started on the evening of April 15, while the cathedral’s roof was being repaired. I became interested in the cathedral while doing research for my upcoming release, Refiner’s Fire, which is partially set in Paris. In my last post I covered the building’s history, and over the next couple of months I plan to highlight some of the marvelous details and treasures Notre Dame contains. Today I’m focusing on its exterior features.

Notre Dame is an imposing 420 ft. long, 157 ft. wide, and 115 ft. high, excluding the two massive towers at the main entrance on the western side. These are among its most recognizable features and were the last major part of the cathedral that was constructed. The south tower was built between 1220 and 1240 and houses the 13-ton Emmanuel bell. The north tower was built between 1235 and 1250 and at 226 ft. is slightly taller than the south tower as you can see in the image above. They remained the tallest structures in Paris until the Eiffel Tower was completed in 1889.

The Last Judgment, Central Portal
Carlos Delgado; CC-BY-SA
The three magnificent portals on the western façade were built in the 13th century. A significant amount of their carvings and statuary were demolished during the French Revolution but have been carefully duplicated. The left portal portrays the life of the Virgin
Mary. The central portal features a vertical triptych of the Last Judgment, displaying the resurrection of the dead, the judgment, Christ, and the apostles, with Christ reigning in the highest panel. The portal of Saint-Anne on the right side includes the oldest, most beautiful, and last surviving sculpture from the 12th century, showing the Virgin Mary sitting on a throne holding the Christ child. A gallery of 28 statues of the kings of Israel occupies the space above the portals. The west side also features a stunning rose window measuring 32.8 ft. in diameter, with images of Adam and Eve on the outer rim. The Grande Galerie that connects the two towers is adorned with images of demons and birds that can only be seen from above.
Chimera,  Jawed Karim (2014)
There are also impressive portals on the north and south façades. The one on the north features a magnificent 13th-century statue of the Virgin Mary. She used to hold the Christ child in her arms, but it also was destroyed during the French Revolution and never replaced. On the cathedral’s south side lavis sculptures adorn the Saint-Etienne Portal portraying the life and deeds of the saint. And from the cathedral’s rear at its east end one can see the exterior of the apse and the graceful flying buttresses that support its walls.
Panageotean Graphics,
derivative work Lämpel
The original spire was constructed in the 13th century and placed on the cathedral’s roof above the transept and altar. By 1786 it had become so weakened that it had to be removed. A new spire built of oak covered with lead and weighing 750 tons replaced it during the 19th-century restoration by Eugène Viollet-le-Duc. This one was surrounded by copper statues of the twelve apostles, with groups of 3 facing in each direction along with an animal symbolizing one of the four gospel writers: an angel for Matthew, a lion for Mark, a steer for Luke, and an eagle for John. The only statue that didn’t face outwards toward Paris was that of Thomas, the patron saint of architects; it faced the spire and had Viollet-le-Duc’s features. The spire was crowned by a rooster weather vane that contained a tiny piece from the Crown of Thorns and relics of Denis and Saint Genevieve, patron saints of Paris, placed there in 1935 by Archbishop Jean Verdier, to protect the congregation from lightning or other harm. This spire was destroyed in the April fire along with the roof itself, but by a stroke of luck the statues had been removed for restoration a few days before the fire. And miraculously, the rooster was found intact in the rubble left by the fire.

My post next month will take a closer look at the exquisite rose windows and other treasures of the cathedral. This month, since Refiner’s Fire officially publishes June 1, I’m giving away a copy—or for those who haven’t read all of the previous books of my American Patriot Series, your choice of any of the volumes! To enter the drawing, please leave a comment on this post answering the question below. And be sure to include your email address so I can contact you if you win. Because of the holiday, I’m extending the drawing through Tuesday. I’ll announce the winner in the comments here Wednesday morning, so be sure to check back!

QUESTION: What do you think of the ideas being proposed for the reconstruction of Notre Dame Cathedral? Should this historic building be restored to its former glory, or do you favor adding dramatic modern features as some experts advocate? Let’s hear your opinions and your reasons why!
J. M. Hochstetler is the daughter of Mennonite farmers and a lifelong student of history. She is also an author, editor, and publisher. Her American Patriot Series is the only comprehensive historical fiction series on the American Revolution. Book 6, Refiner’s Fire, releases in April 2019. Northkill, Book 1 of the Northkill Amish Series coauthored with Bob Hostetler, won Foreword Magazine’s 2014 Indie Book of the Year Bronze Award for historical fiction. Book 2, The Return, received the 2017 Interviews and Reviews Silver Award for Historical Fiction and was named one of Shelf Unbound’s 2018 Notable Indie Books. One Holy Night, a contemporary retelling of the Christmas story, was the Christian Small Publishers 2009 Book of the Year and a finalist in the Carol Award.


  1. Notre Dame is most valued for its' historic aspects, I think. Since that has been destroyed and whatever replaces it would only be a reproduction, I think that both historic and modern elements could be combined. Thanks for highlighting this beautiful building. bcrug(at)twc(dot)com

    1. Hi, Connie! From what I've read about this issue, it appears that a lot of experts and others are thinking along those lines too. Thanks for stopping by and sharing your viewpoint! Good luck in the drawing.

  2. This was an interesting blog. Thank's for writing it. (I wonder if my brother has any photos I could see.)My comment----- I think it should be restored! It's a Many centuries old building. It should be brought back to what it was if it can be. It is history after all. (Joan, as usual if name is picked for the book, pick someone else. )You know my contact info already.!

    1. Bev, if he does, I'd love to see them too! I tend to think that since the building is historic it should be restored to its former appearance a much as possible. But I think it's fine to tuck in modern technology that would be useful and not intrusive. And yes, I won't include you in the drawing since you already have all the books! lol!

    2. I'll ask my sister-in-law if they have any I can have copies of. Or, maybe we could go there next time you're here (That is if they are not out of the country somewhere!)

  3. Definitely against the modern option. A beautiful old church burned down in my hometown and the modern rebuild is not attractive.

    1. That just makes me feel sad, Lisa. What a shame to lose old treasures like that. I'd think they could incorporate at least some of the original design, but I suppose cost has something to do with it. Thanks for stopping by and sharing your insights! And good luck in the drawing!

  4. Drum roll....Lisa D. is the winner of our drawing for a free copy of Refiner's Fire or one of the other books from the American Patriot Series! Congratulations, Lisa! Please contact me at jmhochstetler at msn dot com so I can get your mailing address.