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The Secret Language of Churches & Cathedrals: Decoding the Sacred Symbolism of Christianity's Holy Buildings Hardcover – January 1, 1999

4.8 out of 5 stars 15 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

About the Author

Richard Stemp lectures at the National Gallery, Tate Modern and Tate Britain. He wrote and presented the TV series Art in the National GalleryA" for Channel 4. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Duncan Baird; First Edition edition (September 7, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1844839168
  • ISBN-13: 978-1844839162
  • Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 1.1 x 12.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 3.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #77,029 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Jean E. Pouliot on May 28, 2011
Format: Hardcover
First of all, let's clear up a misnomer in the title of this fabulous book: there aren't many things that are *secret* in the church architecture and art, but there are many things that are *unknown.* It's these little-known aspects of the theology and scripture, built into church walls, ceilings and art that are often obscure to those unfamiliar with church stories.

"Secret Language" is a Richard Stemp's gorgeous, very well-researched and exquisitely photographed study of the theological themes that pervade church art and architecture. Better still, it is written by a person who is at once sympathetic to the stories and knowledgeable about them. We begin to understand obvious aspects of churches - like their mass, height and upward direction as suggesting the solidity of church and their desire to direct our inner gaze upward to God. Sounding boards above pulpits not only focus the preacher's words to the congregation, but signal that the word itself is worth listening to. Accompanying the descriptions are photos of some of the most beautiful churches to be found. Because of the flourishing of church decorating during these periods, there is a fuller focus on the Romanesque, medieval and baroque periods. But there are a few modern churches in the book as well, including and the Crystal Cathedral in LA and my beloved Trinity Church in Boston.

Stemp also probes the meanings of many of the world's famous paintings and altarpieces. These include Grunewald's gruesome Isenheim altarpiece, with its greenish, poxed Christ presiding over a hospital chapel. The Van Eyck's Ghent altarpiece is also beautifully rendered and its main details parsed out.
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This book exceeded my expectations on every level. It is written by an serious author who clearly researched his subject and has not allowed himself to be corrupted by revisionist history or political correctness. The photographs are large and beautifully reproduced;every detail the author refers to is plainly visible.The text is reserved and restrained, but contains a wealth of information and detail.
Everything about this book is exceptional, from the quality of the writing to the quality of the paper. It even has a ribbon bookmark. When is the last time you saw one of those?
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I love books of church architecture. For me Rome was like Catholic Disneyland. However, I also like classical music and my problem with classical music is the same as it is with looking at churches - I can't figure out the eras or the styles, let alone recognize the work of a certain architect. If this is you I would buy the book. If for no other reason, you could spend a lifetime occasionally picking it up and turning to any page at random and find something enjoyable. I can't say to much more because it only came a few months ago but I knew from the first I would love it.
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I had only the description to go by and was concerned that it wouldn't meet my needs. It was more that I could have expected. It's a large coffee table sized book. That does make it awkward to read --and it has such good information you want to do more than look at the wonderful photographs. However, the large size does allow for a better view of the pictures.
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Many parish priests take great care in how they design worship areas. This is a great book to inspire great ideas. I loved it. It is as fascinating as the title and cover pics suggest.
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For those interested in art and architecture, Richard Stemp's analysis of the symbolism embodied in the fabric of churches will provide another dimension of thought and study.

Not only is the book a joy to read because of its stunning illustrations and elegant language, but Stemp's attention to detail priovides the reader wiuth a deeper insight into many of the things we take for granted when we look into our great churches.

Covering not only among other things as things as gargoyles and columnar statuary, but also the paintings that adorn the altars and walls, the author deftly provides a narrative to the accomplishments of centuries of inspired artisans.
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I gave this book to a friend as a gift, and he loves it. The pictures are gorgeous and the explanations are very detailed. Anyone who is artistic and appreciates fine work would love this book.
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Love the insider details and wonderful pictures. Great book.
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