Paris and Her Cathedrals
By R Howard Bloch
Liveright
$32.50

For history readers, travelers, and scholars alike, an indispensable behind-the-scenes guide to the great cathedrals of Paris.

“So infectious is R. Howard Bloch’s passion for his subject that even those unable to do the traveling required will find in Paris and Her Cathedrals an inspiring guide to these time-hallowed masterpieces of medieval culture.” —Colin Jones, author of Paris and The Great Nation

Over the years, R. Howard Bloch has become renowned for the insider tours of Paris that he gives to students abroad. Long sought after by travelers and history buffs for his near-encyclopedic knowledge of French cathedrals, the eminent French literature scholar finally shares his expertise with a wider audience.

In Paris and Her Cathedrals, six of the most sublime cathedrals in the penumbra of Paris—Saint-Denis, Notre-Dame, Chartres, Sainte-Chapelle, Amiens, Reims—are illumined in magnificent detail as Bloch, taking us from the High Middle Ages to the devastating fire that set Notre-Dame ablaze in 2019, traces the evolution of each in turn. Written from the premise that “seeing is enhanced by knowing,” each chapter is organized along the lines of a walk around and then through the space of the cathedral, such that the actual or virtual visitor feels the rich sweep of the church, “the essence of these architectural wonders” (Antonia Felix).

Animating the past with lush evocations of architectural splendor—from flying buttresses and jewel-encrusted shrines to hidden burial grounds and secret chambers—Bloch then contextualizes the cathedrals within the annals of French history. Here thrilling tales of kingly intrigue—as in Saint-Chapelle, where the pious King Louis IX amassed relics, including Christ’s crown of thorns—and audacious abbots are interspersed with anecdotes about the meeting of aristocratic and everyday life, culminating in “a rich, colorful narrative that clearly but expertly explains the history and symbolism of some of the world’s most magnificent buildings” (Ross King).

To be read in preparation for an enlightened visit or merely to open a window upon the High Middle Ages in France, Paris and Her Cathedrals is a “revelation,” an “indispensable guide” (Garry Wills) to these awe-inspiring structures. Complete with the author’s own photographs, this beautifully illustrated volume vitally enhances our understanding of the history of Paris and its environs.

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