Cover image for The Gothic enterprise : a guide to understanding the Medieval cathedral
The Gothic enterprise : a guide to understanding the Medieval cathedral
Scott, Robert A., 1935-
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Berkeley : University of California Press, [2003]

Physical Description:
xiv, 292 pages : illustrations, maps ; 25 cm
Reading Level:
1500 Lexile.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
NA440 .S425 2003 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

On Order



The great Gothic cathedrals of Europe are among the most astonishing achievements of Western culture. Evoking feelings of awe and humility, they make us want to understand what inspired the people who had the audacity to build them. This engrossing book surveys an era that has fired the historical imagination for centuries. In it Robert A. Scott explores why medieval people built Gothic cathedrals, how they built them, what conception of the divine lay behind their creation, and how religious and secular leaders used cathedrals for social and political purposes. As a traveler's companion or a rich source of knowledge for the armchair enthusiast, The Gothic Enterprise helps us understand how ordinary people managed such tremendous feats of physical and creative energy at a time when technology was rudimentary, famine and disease were rampant, the climate was often harsh, and communal life was unstable and incessantly violent.

While most books about Gothic cathedrals focus on a particular building or on the cathedrals of a specific region, The Gothic Enterprise considers the idea of the cathedral as a humanly created space. Scott discusses why an impoverished people would commit so many social and personal resources to building something so physically stupendous and what this says about their ideas of the sacred, especially the vital role they ascribed to the divine as a protector against the dangers of everyday life.

Scott's narrative offers a wealth of fascinating details concerning daily life during medieval times. The author describes the difficulties master-builders faced in scheduling construction that wouldn't be completed during their own lifetimes, how they managed without adequate numeric systems or paper on which to make detailed drawings, and how climate, natural disasters, wars, variations in the hours of daylight throughout the year, and the celebration of holy days affected the pace and timing of work. Scott also explains such things as the role of relics, the quarrying and transporting of stone, and the incessant conflict cathedral-building projects caused within their communities. Finally, by drawing comparisons between Gothic cathedrals and other monumental building projects, such as Stonehenge, Scott expands our understanding of the human impulses that shape our landscape.

Author Notes

Robert A. Scott is Associate Director Emeritus of the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University, and was previously Professor of Sociology at Princeton University for 18 years. He is the coauthor of Why Sociology Does Not Apply (1979); author of Making of Blind Men (1969); editor of several collections of essays about stigma, deviancy, and social control; and author of numerous articles, book chapters, and essays on related topics.

Reviews 2

Library Journal Review

Scott (sociology, emeritus, Stanford Univ.) offers an intriguing study of the historical creation of the medieval cathedral in Europe. By not approaching his subject from the usual architectural, art historical, or medieval studies perspectives, he provides a fresh eye and an engaging entr?e to how and why, for a 300-year period, Europeans created these lasting monuments. The "gothic enterprise" of cathedral building is covered in chapters devoted to the history of cathedral building and a definition of the "gothic look." Black-and-white illustrations and photographs help elucidate the author's points. Scott also examines the religious experience that generated the will to build the great churches, followed by a concluding chapter on the makeup of the European communities that did the actual work. Based on numerous secondary sources, Scott's readable introduction to the cathedral is a nice follow-up to David Macaulay's classic illustrated work, Cathedral: The Story of Its Construction. Recommended particularly for public libraries with an interest in art and architecture.-Martin R. Kalfatovic, Smithsonian Inst. Libs., Washington, D.C. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

Scott (Stanford Univ.) tries to explain for general readers the phenomenon of the Gothic cathedral by providing the context--religious, societal, intellectual, artistic--that underlay their construction. Scott wants readers to understand how and why the great churches of the Gothic era rose from the ground, how they functioned, and what meaning they might have held for those by whom and for whom they were built. Having read widely on the Middle Ages, Scott draws arguments from the work of experts in medieval history, architecture, theology, religion, sociology, finance, etc., condensing and synthesizing them into short, readable chapters. Occasionally, however, he seems not to have a solid grasp of the material he has digested. For example, his explanation of the structural logic of Gothic architecture and how it differed from the Romanesque that preceded it, as outlined in chapter 7, "What Is the Gothic Look?," might leave readers more confused after having read it. That said, such lapses are more than made up for by the comprehensiveness of Scott's treatment of this complex topic and the clarity with which he sets it forth for readers. ^BSumming Up: Recommended. General readers; lower- and upper-division undergraduates. E. B. Smith Pennsylvania State University, University Park Campus

Table of Contents

A Personal Journey
Part I A Grand Undertaking
1 What Is the Gothic Enterprise?
2 How Were the Cathedrals Built?
Part II History
3 Kings, Feudal Lords, and Great Monasteries
4 The Age of Cathedral-Building
5 The Initial Vision
6 "The Cathedral Crusade"
Part III The Gothic Look
7 What Is the Gothic Look?
8 An Image of Heaven
9 A Pragmatic View of Cathedral-Building
Part IV The Religious Experience
10 Sacred Force and Sacred Space
11 Imagining the Cathedral
12 Honoring the Dead
Part V The Gothic Community
13 Medieval Living Conditions
14 The Spiritual Brokers-Priests and Monarchs
15 Cathedrals and Community
Learning from Stonehenge
List of Illustrations and Photography Credits