The Gothic Enterprise: A Guide to Understanding the Medieval Cathedral

The Gothic Enterprise: A Guide to Understanding the Medieval Cathedral

The Gothic Enterprise: A Guide to Understanding the Medieval Cathedral

The Gothic Enterprise: A Guide to Understanding the Medieval Cathedral

Synopsis

The great Gothic cathedrals of Europe are among the grandest achievements of Western culture. Evoking feelings of awe and humility, they compel us to attempt to understand what inspired the people who had the audacity to build them. This engrossing book surveys an era that has fired the historical imagination for centuries. Robert A. Scott explores why medieval people built Gothic cathedrals, how they built them, what conception of the divine lay behind their creation, and the social and political uses made of cathedrals by religious and secular leaders. As a traveler's companion or a rich source of knowledge for the armchair enthusiast, The Gothic Enterprise helps us understand how ordinary people managed tremendous feats of physical and creative energy at a time when technology was rudimentary, famine and disease were rampant, the climate was often harsh, and communal life was unstable and incessantly violent. Scott's narrative offers a wealth of fascinating details concerning daily life during medieval times. The author describes the difficulties master-builders faced in scheduling construction that wouldn't be completed during their own lifetimes, how they negotiated the absence of usable numeric systems and the lack of paper on which to make detailed drawings, and how climate, natural disasters, wars, variations in hours of daylight throughout the year, and the celebration of holy days impacted the pace and timing of work. Scott also explains such things as the role of relics in the cathedral, quarries and the transporting of stone, and the incessant conflict cathedral-building projects caused within their communities. Finally, by drawing comparisons between Gothic cathedrals and other monumental building projects throughout history, Scott expands our understanding of the human impulses that shape our landscape.

Excerpt

Awe. Inspiration. Humility. These words just hint at the powerful responses evoked by the great Gothic cathedrals of Europe. The visionaries who dreamed them command our admiration and respect, and the audacity of those who actually built them elicits disbelief. How, we may wonder, did ordinary people manage these feats of tremendous physical and creative eªort during a time, to quote Thomas Hobbes's Leviathan (1651), when life was “nasty, brutish, and short”? Technology in the twelfth to sixteenth centuries was rudimentary, famine and disease were rampant, the climate was often harsh, and communal life was unstable and incessantly violent. Yet communities with only a meager standard of living managed to make the immense investment of capital demanded by the construction of these great edifices. They mobilized the spiritual and civic determination needed to sustain building projects that sometimes spanned centuries. And they created buildings whose exquisite beauty continues to amaze us today.

This is a book about this grand undertaking—the great Gothic enterprise that produced the hundreds of cathedrals and great monastic churches that dot the landscape of Europe. Most other books about cathedrals are devoted to a single building or a set of buildings, and the diªerent styles of columns, vaults, buttresses, altars, and stained glass we find in them. My aim is diªerent: it is to understand the very idea of a cathedral—any cathedral. What did it . . .

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