cover image Paris and Her Cathedrals

Paris and Her Cathedrals

R. Howard Bloch. Liveright, $32.50 (368p) ISBN 978-1-63149-392-8

Bloch (One Toss of the Dice), a professor of French and humanities at Yale, tours six Parisian cathedrals in this stimulating cultural history. Conveying the passion he’s developed over decades spent visiting these feats of Gothic architecture with his students, Bloch explains that when the world failed to end in 1000 CE, as had been predicted by theologians and others, a flurry of construction produced the “Age of Cathedrals” in Paris and beyond. Noting that the Tree of Jesse motif, which illustrates “the royal genealogy of Christ from the Old Testament Jesse to Jesus,” appears in stained glass at Saint-Denis and Chartres, Bloch acknowledges the “habit of reiteration” that saw medieval artists and architects imitating designs they had seen elsewhere but draws clear distinctions between each cathedral. Reims, for example, is known as the “coronation cathedral” because it is believed to be the location where Clovis, the first king of France, was baptized, while Amiens, a “great wedding cake of a cathedral,” houses a particularly impressive collection of statues. Throughout, Bloch evokes a sense of what has been lost to fire, storms, war, and time, including the “sound, like angels, of a solo singer or choir” that once reverberated through these cathedrals. Distinguished by Bloch’s infectious enthusiasm and vivid descriptions, this will appeal to tourists and armchair travelers alike. (Nov.)