Universe of Stone: A Biography of Chartres Cathedral

Philip Ball, Author . Harper $27.95 (322p) ISBN 978-0-06-115429-4

Anyone who has been thrilled by the great Gothic cathedrals will revel in this study of both the spiritual and architectural qualities of those medieval wonders. For Ball (Critical Mass ), a consultant for Nature magazine, the Chartres cathedral is the apotheosis of the Gothic style, and in his hands it becomes a kind of time capsule bearing the message of the High Middle Ages, when reason was emerging into a world previously governed by faith and fear. Ball is a sure-footed guide through the thickets of medieval philosophical debate about reason and religion, while also presenting the strong personalities of the time, such as the ascetic Bernard of Clairveaux and his nemesis, the fractious Peter Abelard. Then Ball focuses on the physical aspects of the cathedral: the role of the geometry in Gothic design, the fine points of rib vaults and pointed arches, and the role structural necessity played in creating the Gothic aesthetic. But for Ball the central question is the possible link between the the realms of the spiritual and physical: did the “hard-shell-studded limestone” Chartres cathedral embody the worldview of the new scholasticism taught at Chartres's prestigious school, which rejected the notion that God's ways are unknowable in favor of viewing nature as governed by orderly, intelligible laws? Ball's passion, sharp critical mind and fluid prose open a window onto the remote, alien world we call the Middle Ages. 16 pages of color illus., 100 b&w illus. (July 1)

Reviewed on: 05/26/2008
Release date: 07/01/2008
Genre: Pick of the Week
Paperback - 326 pages - 978-0-09-949944-2
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