Great Nonfiction: The Gothic Enterprise, by Robert A. Scott

The Gothic Enterprise: A Guide to Understanding the Medieval CathedralCathedrals

My husband and I enjoy visiting Gothic cathedrals whenever we take a trip to Europe. The very first, and one of the oldest, cathedrals that we experienced was in Salisbury, England. I’ll never forget the sense of awe that emanated from the magnificent structure, stemming from its age, its architecture and design, and its size. Since that first sojourn, we’ve never failed to recapture those feelings in any of the cathedrals we’ve seen in England, France, or Italy. It’s evident that Robert A. Scott has experienced the same emotions, and in The Gothic Enterprise, he pours his enthusiasm into describing the social phenomena that lead to the construction of these wonderful places.

The first section of the book explores the whos, whats and hows, with respect to the planners and builders, materials and methods, and settings. Because completion of such colossal buildings could take a century or more, all of these factors were subject to change as the project progressed. Scott then moves onto the history, studying the social, philosophical, religious, and intellectual underpinnings. Of particular interest is the discussion of monasteries, and the role that the abbots and brothers played in fostering the impulse toward the grandeur of the enterprise. The third sections focuses upon architectural elements, moving beyond the stones themselves to use of light as a metaphor for God. Next, the uses that clergy and the populous made of their cathedrals are explored, with information about liturgy, finances, relics, and the power of the dead in the minds of the living. Finally, those who made up the community that surrounded cathedral centers are described, in terms of living conditions, social strata, collective identity, and the interdependence of church, government, and laity.

The Gothic Enterprise is a valuable addition to the book shelves of anyone who appreciates these wonderful cathedrals.

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