In the twelfth century, Christians in Europe began to build a completely new kind of church – not the squat, gloomy buildings we now call Romanesque, but soaring, spacious monuments flooded with light from immense windows. These were the first Gothic churches, the crowning example of which was the cathedral of Chartres, an unparalleled feat of craftsmanship in which all the elements of the new style cohered perfectly for the first time.
Since the church was the hub of society, representing nothing less than a vision of Heaven on earth, this shift in architectural style was not undertaken lightly: it marked a profound change in the social, intellectual and theological climate of Western Christendom. It also posed enormous challenges to the master builders and masons whose task it was to make these cast masses of stone seen airy and weightless.
In Universe of Stone, Phillip Ball explains the genesis and development of the Gothic style. He argues that it signified a new way of looking at God and the universe. Informed by the rediscovery of texts from the ancient world, philosophers began to question old certainties about God’s power and plan for mankind. This was the beginning of the argument between faith and reason – an argument which remains unresolved to this day – and of a scientific view of the world that threatened to dispense with God altogether.
Universe of Stone establishes Chartres Cathedral’s iconic role in Europe’s history: a revolution in thought embodied in stone and glass; a philosophy made concrete through the cooperation of theologians, craftsmen and engineers; and a bridge between the ancient and modern worlds.