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The Gothic Enterprise: A Guide to Understanding the Medieval Cathedral Paperback – June 28, 2011


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The Gothic Enterprise: A Guide to Understanding the Medieval Cathedral + Universe of Stone: Chartres Cathedral and the Invention of the Gothic AKA Universe of Stone: A Biography of Chartres Cathedral + The Gothic Cathedral
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: University of California Press; With a New Preface edition (June 28, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0520269993
  • ISBN-13: 978-0520269996
  • Product Dimensions: 0.8 x 5.5 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #218,600 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Review

"Offers an intriguing study of the historical creation of the medieval cathedral in Europe. . . . provides a fresh eye and an engaging entree to how and why, for a 300-year period, Europeans created these lasting monuments. . . . Recommended particularly for public libraries with an interest in art and architecture."--"Library Journal --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From the Inside Flap

"This is easily the best book I have seen on why the great cathedrals were built. The breadth of Scott’s scholarship is astonishing. As well as art history and architecture, he brings to bear his knowledge of subjects as wide apart as engineering, the sociology of religion, and the medieval economy. Only a handful of books truly throw light on the mystery of the cathedrals, and this is one of them."—Ken Follett, author of Pillars of the Earth

"Written in a lucid style and illustrated by dozens of sketches and photographs, this interdisciplinary survey is the best introduction to its subject now in print."—Gene Brucker, author of Florence: The Golden Age, 1138–1737

"Scott has given us a book of wonderful breadth and erudition with a refreshingly light touch. He describes vividly the social, political, and religious background to the great flowering of the Gothic cathedrals of Europe in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, and the strange mixture of motives that drove this astonishing building program. He is equally interested in the hard practical mechanics of hewing timber, erecting scaffolding, quarrying stone, transporting and hauling these materials as he is in the religious and liturgical symbolisms and conceptual schemes of the architects and their royal paymasters. Gothic cathedrals are astounding monuments to the aspirations of the human spirit reaching out to the divine, and this is a splendid introduction to the medieval worlds that produced them, written by an enthusiastic guide who really knows his subject and loves it."—Hugh Dickinson, Dean Emeritus of Salisbury Cathedral

"Gothic architecture is notoriously difficult to represent verbally, but in Scott’s book the joy so many people find in discovering these breathtakingly beautiful monuments is palpable."—Stephen Murray, author of Notre Dame, Cathedral of Amiens: The Power of Change in Gothic

"In this splendid book Scott writes precisely, clearly, and with a love for both words and his readers. Those who read these pages will come away enlightened, inspired, and with a more profound grasp of our civilization."—Neil J. Smelser, University Professor of Sociology, Emeritus, University of California, Berkeley

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Customer Reviews

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Finally, the black and white photographs, possibly shot by the author, are sadly not up to par with the topic.
Pierre Gauthier
'We might ...imagine that the long time required to build Gothic cathedrals added to the depth of the collective identity they engendered.'
FrKurt Messick
The Gothic Enterprise is a valuable addition to the book shelves of anyone who appreciates these wonderful cathedrals.
Linda Pagliuco

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

48 of 48 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on January 6, 2004
Format: Hardcover
This book is both a wondrous introduction to Gothic Cathedrals for those who are newly curious about them and a concise but thorough resource for those who have long admired and read about the Gothic Cathedral. The author often takes a personal approach in his narrative, which seems quite appropriate given the personal impression these buildings were designed to make (and have made on most who will read this book). The book is both well-researched and easy to read, a difficult achievement. Its description of the elements of Gothic architecture, for example, is one of the most complete and clear treatments I have read.
The broad perspective taken (historical, intellectual, religious, architectural, sociological) helps bring together into one coherent whole the many different faces of the cathedral. Even those who may know the historical and intellectual origins of the cathedral will learn much about its other aspects here. For example, some of the details on construction techniques and parts of the discussion of "sacred spaces" within the cathedral were new even to someone who has read many books on the subject.
Medieval intellectual history and its relationship to the cathedrals is explored, and the coexistence of the potentially conflicting reason and faith in a single building is explained. Some discussion of how the cathedrals and their attached schools gave rise to the medieval (and hence the modern) university would have been helpful.
Overall, though, the book provides an excellent introduction to the topic and a comprehensive explanation of the "why" and "how" of Gothic Cathedrals (in addition to the more mundane, but still important, "who", "when", and "where").
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48 of 49 people found the following review helpful By FrKurt Messick HALL OF FAMETOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on September 23, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Author Robert Scott had much the same the experience at Salisbury Cathedral as I had - a sense of awe and wonder, and a desire to learn more about it, not just as a place, or as an architectural wonder, or as a place of worship, or as a cultural icon. Scott wanted to get at the heart of the idea of the Gothic enterprise as a whole - a trained sociologist, Scott knew that the bigger picture is sometimes lost by too narrow a focus on particular details to the exclusion of others. The sociology background also gave Scott a sense of wanting to understand the hearts and minds of the people involved.

While the principal focus of Scott's travels started with Salisbury Cathedral (in full, the Cathedral Church of the Blessed Virgin Mary at Salisbury), Scott draws examples from the breadth of the Gothic cathedrals, churches and other buildings. There are literally thousands of such dotted across the European and European-influenced landscapes. Each building has its own unique characteristics, but they share a common spirit.

Church building in particular was 'big business' in Christendom for a long time. Scott quotes estimates of that there are nearly 19,000 ecclesiastical buildings in England and Wales, nearly half of which date to the medieval period. The first Gothic church was the Abbey Church of St. Denis, just north of Paris, built under the direction of the 'founding father' of Gothic style, Abbot Suger.

Scott's first major section looks at how cathedrals were built, in terms of materials, architectural design, settings, and workforce. With regard to the workforce, the numbers were large and the division of labour highly specialised. In the records of the construction of Westminster Abbey, there were fifteen different categories of workers listed in 1253.
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29 of 30 people found the following review helpful By Pierre Gauthier on June 26, 2009
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This work is largely successful at describing and explaining the historical and sociological context pertaining to the construction of gothic cathedrals.

Some important shortcomings should however be pointed out.

First, the title is misleading since the book is very much centered on England, and specifically on Salisbury, whereas gothic cathedrals blossomed first and foremost on the Continent. 'The Gothic Enterprise in England' would have been more appropriate.

Also, the author carries the strange notion that 12th and 13th century societies were poor and wretched whereas the very cathedrals discussed are proof to the contrary. He clearly is not familiar with Régine Pernoud's work, initially published in the 1970's, that debunks many myths concerning the Middle Ages!

One of the book's most fascinating chapters, placed at the very end, deals with Stonehenge. Why however include it in this work since there is no indication that Stonehenge had any influence whatsoever on gothic construction?

Finally, the black and white photographs, possibly shot by the author, are sadly not up to par with the topic.
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33 of 35 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on January 14, 2004
Format: Hardcover
I would highly recommend Robert A. Scott's new book, The Gothic Enterprise. Although many books have been published on the topic of Gothic Cathedrals, Scott has approached his subject with a new perspective. He asks the reader to think as much about the "why" of cathedral building as the "how." The reader will still find lots of information about the practical aspects of cathedral building, most helpfully enhanced by a discussion of the social, political, economic, and even climatological factors that complicated such long and challenging construction projects. But above and beyond this, Scott is interested in the people who conceived, designed, and built these great churches. What motivated them? How did hundreds of people with varying and often conflicting interests work collectively over long periods of time? What did an individual or a community expect in return for their contribution to such a bold undertaking?
Scott answers these questions and more. In turn he challenges the reader to see the cathedral in a new light, not only as an example of great architecture, but as tangible evidence of the commitment, creativity, hope, and faith of the people who, against great odds, undertook such a bold and difficult enterprise.
Having visited dozens of cathedrals, I think Scott is right on target. A cathedral is more than an amalgamation of stone, timber, and glass. If we look closely, we can still see traces of the contributors: in a mason's mark, the carved face of an 800 year-old effigy, a bishop's ring, or an irreverent carving high in the rooftops. It is the collective presence of these long-dead individuals, as much as the grandeur of the architecture that makes a cathedral so memorable, so tangibly the result of a collective human enterprise.
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