'The whole of France is in her cathedrals', proclaimed Rodin, 'as all Greece is epitomized by the Parthenon.' The Gothic cathedrals dominated the art of the Middle Ages and remain the most imposing evidence of their thought, their faith and their ideals.
Who could ever forget the memory of the emotion felt on contemplating the cathedral of Senlis and its slender spite from afar, through the trees of the forest which envelop it; the silhouette of the cathedral of Laon, standing like the hull of some fantastic ship run aground on the hillside; or the admiration evoked by the solid and mighty façade of Notre-Dame de Paris; the lacy stonework at Rheims; the superb mass of the chevet of Albi, the nave at Amiens, perfect in its logic and its proportions and of a supreme elegance which makes it the 'French Parthenon'. Likewise, who could forget the wide and light-filled nave of Bourges, extended still more by its double aisles, or that of Chartres, most impressive of all the cathedrals, because of its noble proportions, the beauty of its stained- glass windows and sculpture, and even more because of its human proportions which make it the cathedral par excellence for those who come to pray?
'French cathedrals', Rodin continues, 'were born of French nature. The air from our sky, so light and at the same time so soft, has given our artists their grace and refined their taste.' The cathedrals are the symbol of our race. The stones they are built of bind them firmly to the soil which bears them: brilliant limestones from the Ile-de-France, blocks of rock from Beauce; more limestone--fragile from Champagne, close-grained from Burgundy, hard from the Oise; marbles from the Pyrenees and the south, pink sandstone at Strasbourg, granite in Brittany, Limousin and Forez, arkrose and volvic in Auvergne, and bricks in Flanders and Languedoc.
On the west front, Christ surrounded by His mother, His apostles and His saints, welcomes the visitor and ushers him into His church with its beautiful slender lines. Here, the stained-glass windows, as brilliantly colourful as precious stones, create a warm and luminous, a living and joyful atmosphere, broken up by patches of light and shade which give rhythm to the entire building. Never before has matter been spiritualized to this point. Never before has the spirit of a monument been so obvious through the stone which veils it. 'Common men, who believe that these stones are only stones,' writes Michelet, 'who do not feel the vigour which pervades them, whether you be Christians or not, revere and kiss the symbol they bear. There is something great, something eternal here.'
The cathedral, which until the Romanesque epoch was often only a modest building in comparison with the immense abbey churches, proud of their power and their wealth, came to the forefront in the twelfth century, especially after the . . .