Philip Ball
HarperCollins | 0061154296 | 2008 | PDF | 336 pages | 7 Mb

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Chartres Cathedral, south of Paris, is revered as one of the most beautiful and profound works of art in the Western canon. But what did it mean to those who constructed it in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries? And why, during this time, did Europeans begin to build churches in a new style, at such immense height and with such glorious play of light, in the soaring manner we now call Gothic?

Universe of Stone shows that the Gothic cathedrals encode a far-reaching shift in the way medieval thinkers perceived their relationship with their world. For the first time, they began to believe in an orderly, rational world that could be investigated and understood. This change marked the beginning of Western science and also the start of a long and, indeed, unfinished struggle to reconcile faith and reason.

By embedding the cathedral in the culture of the twelfth century—its schools of philosophy and science, its trades and technologies, its politics and religious debates—Philip Ball makes sense of the visual and emotional power of Chartres. Beautifully illustrated and written, filled with astonishing insight, Universe of Stone argues that Chartres is a sublime expression of the originality and vitality of a true "first renaissance," one that occurred long before the birth of Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, or Francis Bacon.

About the Author

Philip Ball is a consulting editor for Nature magazine and a regular commentator on science in Great Britain. His book Bright Earth was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award, and he won Great Britain's prestigious Aventis Prize for Science Books for Critical Mass. He lives in London.


1 The Isle Rises
Chartres in the Kingdom of France 8
2 A Change of Style
The Invention of Gothic 23
3 Heaven on Earth
What is a Cathedral? 52
4 Seek Not to Know High Things
Faith and Reason in the Middle Ages 69
5 Building by Numbers
Science and Geometry at the School of Chartres 100
6 Masters of Works
The Men Who Planned the Cathedrals 136
7 Hammer and Stone
Medieval Masons 170
Photographic Insert
8 Underneath the Arches
House of Forces 193
9 Holy Radiance
The Metaphysics of Light 233
10 Hard Labour
How the Cathedral Rose 256
11 A New Beginning
The First Renaissance 281


"A lively biography of Chartres Cathedral ...Ball’s account of its construction reveals fascinating details...and evokes its raison d’ĂȘtre." -- The New Yorker

"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. Ball’s passion, sharp critical mind and fluid prose open a window onto the remote, alien world we call the Middle Ages." -- Publishers Weekly (starred review)

"Ball leaves no stone unturned . . . A revelatory look at a seminal period in art history." -- Kirkus Reviews

"There is no better general introduction to the subject... [Ball’s] account is bold and plausible." -- Wall Street Journal

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