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Heaven on Earth: The Lives and Legacies of the World's Greatest Cathedrals

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Together, they reveal how 1000 years of cathedral-building shaped modern Europe, and influenced art, culture and society around the world. Authorities were always alert to small tweaks to their offer that could grow their revenues: at Reims, the cranium of St Nicasius was translated to a new shrine simply to create an additional station at which pilgrims could make offerings.

Next we head west to witness the building of Salisbury Cathedral, after it is moved from its original location in ‘Old Sarum’, where it was hidden away on top of a bleak and windy hill, inside a forbidding Norman fortress. Abbot Suger, who led the 12th-century building of Notre-Dame de Saint-Denis – in many ways the template for every Gothic church that followed – understood it was more than daylight that his abbey’s great windows let in, it was the divine. But if cathedrals were in some sense bounden to the affirmatory heft of secular authority, they were also a bulwark against it. Prefacing her account with the construction in the sixth century of the Hagia Sophia, the remarkable Christian cathedral of the eastern Roman empire, she goes on to chart the construction of a glittering sequence of iconic structures, including Saint-Denis, Notre-Dame, Canterbury, Chartres, Salisbury, York Minster and Florence's Duomo. Wells is an ecclesiastical and architectural historian, and in some passages the lure of architectural exposition impedes an otherwise lucid and absorbing narrative.Taken as a whole, however, the book offers a luminous insight into the medieval mind and the worldview that made these achievements possible. Wells has written an accessible, authoritative and lavishly illustrated account of the building of 16 of ‘the world’s greatest cathedrals… The book gives full weight to the wealth of legends associated with cathedrals. A glorious illustrated history of sixteen of the world's greatest cathedrals, interwoven with the extraordinary stories of the people who built them.

Walkelin, it is said, had pressed every last citizen of Winchester into service and stripped the woods bare.Walking around a cathedral today can be a solemn and an awe-inspiring experience, but what if we could stand inside the same building and travel back 800 years or so? Over a million people from across the globe are welcomed through the doors at Canterbury every year. He has written or reviewed for a wide range of other publications including The Economist, The Quietus, Slightly Foxed, The Spectator, and The Times. Legend has it that a congregation of devout lay-people worked for free to help build this extraordinary cathedral, which had higher vaults and a longer and wider nave than seen anywhere else in Christendom. Combining scholarship and an eye for human stories, Heaven on Earth is a vivid, colourful and absorbing tour of the greatest buildings the medieval world produced.

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