Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Notre Dame Cathedral, Part 3: Rose Windows

Today I’m continuing my series on the magnificent Cathedral of Notre Dame de Paris as it was before the recent fire. Thankfully the French Senate recently approved plans for an exact restoration, rejecting proposals to drastically modernize its appearance. It turns out that the majority of the experts and the public agree that it’s a historical artifact and should be restored to its former glory, with which I heartily concur.

West Rose
Photo by Zairon - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0
In this installment, I want to focus on the three exquisite medieval rose windows that are the real standouts of the cathedral’s features. The fire left these intact, though they suffered some damage. According to the cathedral’s rector, one of the windows is unstable and will have to be dismantled for repair. That may already have taken place as restoration is already underway.

The West Rose

The first rose window to be installed is the one over the west portals. It’s also the smallest at a little over 32 feet in diameter. It was created in about 1225, with the colored glass pieces placed in a thick circular stone frame. Because of damage it had to be recreated in the 1800s, and none of the original glass remains. (Along the bottom of the window in the image to the left you can see parts of the cathedral’s magnificent pipe organ.)

North Rose
By Zairon - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0
The Transept Roses

The North Rose

The two transept windows are larger and contain more glass than the rose on the western façade. This was possible due to the new system of flying buttresses that enabled the builders to make the nave walls not only thinner, but also stronger. The north rose was installed around 1250 and 18 small vertical windows were added below it.

The South Rose

King Louis IX of France, known as Saint Louis, gave the south rose to the Cathedral. Its size and beauty sets it apart. Created around 1260, it’s 12.9 meters in diameter; while the surrounding claire-voie brings it to a total of 19 meters. Some of the original medallions were moved into circles farther out during restorations in later centuries. Let’s take a closer look at this masterpiece.

Ninety-four medallions are arranged in four circles around the central rose depicting scenes from the life of Christ. The twelve medallions of the inner circle portray the twelve apostles, while the next two circles depict martyrs and virgins. The outer fourth circle includes twenty angels, as well as saints such as Saint Denis, Margaret the Virgin with a dragon, and Saint Eustace that are important to Paris. The third and fourth circles also contain depictions of Old Testament subjects, while the third circle includes medallions showing scenes from the Matthew’s Gospel that are the oldest glass in the window, dating from the last quarter of the 12th century.

South Rose
Public Domain
In 1543 the south rose suffered damage when the cathedral’s masonry walls settled. It wasn’t restored until between 1725 and 1727 and was again badly damaged during the second French Revolution in 1830 when rioters burned the archbishop’s residence, which was next to the cathedral. Many of its panes were destroyed. In 1861 Eugène Viollet-le-Duc entirely rebuilt the window, rotating it to give it a clear vertical and horizontal axis and replacing the lost glass to match so that today it contains both medieval and 19th century glass. Below are sixteen windows with painted images of biblical prophets. Not part of the original window, they were painted by Alfred Gérenthe under Viollet-le-Duc’s direction during the restoration and are based on a similar window at Chartres Cathedral.

The rose windows are indeed extraordinary! Some of you may have had the good fortune to visit Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris and see them in person. But even if you haven’t, there are many beautiful cathedrals and churches endowed with lovely stained glass windows in this country. Please share any you’ve visited that particularly stood out to you and tell us what features you most enjoyed!
J. M. Hochstetler is the daughter of Mennonite farmers and a lifelong student of history. She is a professional editor, a publisher, and the author of award-winning historical fiction whose books have been endorsed by bestselling authors such as Lori Benton, Laura Frantz, Jocelyn Green, Michelle Moran, and MaryLu Tyndal. Her American Patriot Series is the only comprehensive historical fiction series on the American Revolution. She is also the author of One Holy Night, which won the Christian Small Publishers 2009 Book of the Year and co-authored the award-winning Northkill Amish Series with Bob Hostetler. Her latest release is Refiner’s Fire, Book 6 of the American Patriot Series.


  1. I can't remember in particular any stained glass that I've seen, though I know I have seen some. I particularly like the North Rose for some reason, just going by your pictures. Thanks for posting!

  2. Hi, Connie! Don't you just feel like there's something special about stained glass windows that speak to our souls? I love the North window too. Those blue tones are magnificent. Thank you for stopping by and commenting!

  3. Well, I love them all! It would great to be able to see these in person, but the first place I'd want to to is Armenia! The windows are really beautiful! I haven't talked to my sister-in-law yet to see if they have any photos. I'm sure they do though. Um, Joan! FOF? I'm waiting!

    1. Oh, I hope you can get some pictures of them, Bev! I'll bet they're gorgeous. Um....well, I do need to get started on book 7, don't I? LOL!!!

    2. Yes! You do need to get started on book # 7! I'm waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaiting!

  4. I love stained glass. Those windows are amazing! I've dabbled in stain glass and have small pieces in most of my windows.

    1. Vickie, I'll bet it was really fun to actually try making some stained glass! Lucky you! I've never had the opportunity. I have 1 lovely small piece that was given to me that I need to put back up again. It just adds a pop of color that draws your eye. Thanks for stopping by!

  5. The photos of the North and South Rose Windows appear to be of the same window. The photo labeled "South Rose" seems to be a photo of the North Rose window.