Universe of Stone
Universe of Stone
A Biography of Chartres Cathedral
By Philip Ball
HarperTorch, Hardcover, 9780061154294, 322pp.
Publication Date: July 1, 2008
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.
“A lively biography of Chartres Cathedral. . . . Ball’s account of its construction reveals fascinating details . . . and evokes its raison d’être.”
-The New Yorker
“There is no better general introduction to the subject... [Ball’s] account is bold and plausible.”
-Wall Street Journal
“Lively...Ball puts the fun back in medieval scholasticism...seems as much at ease on the medieval building site as in an abbey library.”
-Los Angeles Times
“A terrific book…A lucid, thoughtful tour de force…A fascinating book with important insights and observations on every page.”
-Christian Science Monitor
“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.”
-Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“Ball leaves no stone unturned . . . A revelatory look at a seminal period in art history.”