Ken Follett wrote The Pillars of the Earth in 1989 after three years of writing and significant research. This made him an expert on medieval architecture and cathedrals. When Notre Dame caught fire on the evening of April 15th, 2019, Follett watched with horror as the church burned. He tweeted that it was not difficult for a stone cathedral to burn: “The rafters consist of hundreds of tons of wood, old and very dry. When that burns the roof collapses, then the falling debris destroys the vaulted ceiling, which also falls and destroys the mighty stone pillars that are holding the whole thing up.” News outlets reached out to him for commentary on the fire, which Follett provided for the next many hours. Follett’s publisher requested that he write something about the fire, and Follett started Notre Dame: A Short History of the Meaning of Cathedrals the following day, and within a week, the essay was completed.
The essay includes Follett’s emotions as he watched the fire burn, then some brief histories including the construction of the cathedral, Victor Hugo, Eugene Violett-le-Duc, and Charles De Gaulle, all of which pulls the importance of Notre Dame together into a concise brief history.