Why read it? “Henry Adams saw the uniqueness of the Middle Ages, not in their courts or castles or battles, but in their cathedrals.”
The Cathedral of Notre Dame of
Notre Dame was the climactic achievement of medieval Paris, “…the expression of a social and spiritual endeavor that embraced an extraordinary range of professions and classes….a superb common effort in which the entire community took part, the manual laborer as well as the master artist, the serf and villein as well as the merchant and the prince.”
Sample quotes and ideas:
“So the cathedral stands today, isolated in space but even more isolated in spirit from the life that clatters around it….” Louis Mumford. p. xv.
“For, whatever its other qualities, Notre Dame is never boring; and this is one test of a masterpiece.” p. 4.
“All belonged to the Church, and the Church belonged to all.” p. 6.
[The Cathedral’s] “…gods and demigods watched over every human action, provided for every human contingency, inspired every human creation.” p. 6.
The Middle Ages: “…an age of beauty and brutality for which no generalization is possible, to which no single aphorism apples.” p. 7.
[Notre Dame] “…possesses the essential variety of life itself….” p. 13.
“…the communal Middle Ages…when men as at few moments in history enjoyed their joint capacity to create.” p. 14.
“This carving was necessarily abstract, since effigies—that is, identifiable human or animal figures—would have smacked of idolatry.” p. 35.
The Abbe Suger “…dared to dream…from the material to the immaterial….” p. 78.
“There is no waste—the first crime in architecture as in other arts.” p. 78.
“And by 1160 the noble bullocks, whom the grateful community honored with statues in the towers of the cathedral, were dragging stone up the steep, twisting road to the summit.” p. 90.
“…marvelous little scenes of medieval life would be seen tucked in the corners of the windows, which were actually signatures of the donors…shows that the total community has never, in any part of the world, or in any era, been so strikingly represented in the creation of beauty.” p. 100.
“The Cathedral was conceived with a lavishness that the mercantile mind has come to call waste, since it shows no immediate profit and turnover, in spite of an enormous investment of capital.” p. 102.
“Hidden parts of the monument were given the same elaborate care as the great façade.” p. 103.
“The master-builder…learned draftsmanship, stonecutting, quarrying, lime-burning, and a host of related skills, whose secrets were carefully guarded.” p. 104.
“Thus to conquer space, to thrust such a mass upward and make it live, required a single overriding creative intelligence; Henry Adams fancifully insisted it was the Virgin’s; he may have been right.” p. 114.
To be continued.