Universe of Stone, By Philip Ball

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The Independent Culture

This richly rewarding book explores the irony of how the devout medieval mind laid the basis for modern secularity. Using Chartres cathedral as a supreme example of the Gothic style, Ball explains that the soaring architecture – so otherworldly compared to "squat and gloomy" Romanesque – "encodes a renunciation of our poor, drab and degenerate world".

Scotching theories of numerology and "sacred geometry", Ball insists that Chartres represents a "comprehensible cosmos". The rationalist philosophy behind this grand design was stated in the 12th century by Adelard of Bath: "Only when human knowledge fails utterly should there be recourse to God."