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GREAT GOTHIC CATHEDRALS OF FRANCE, A Visitorís Guide. Stan Parry (Viking Studio; April 2001, 224 pages; $19.95) price: $13.96

Does the world need another book on French cathedrals? Check out this new twist on the age-old topic and you'll wonder how the world did without it.

Here the pride of France is served up with a maximum of detail and minimum of fuss. The ingredients are certainly complex, but like a great French chef the author makes France's rich architectural history look easy.

Along with clear travel information and directions, he shows the visitor on arrival how the great cathedrals were built, how to relate the exterior to the interior, and most enlightening - includes an entire chapter on how to 'read' medieval stained-glass windows. It is a skill that the illiterate medieval faithful could perform without difficulty. However, "today, most of us have lost the ability to read fully the symbols and a sense, it is we who are now illiterate..." Parry writes.

Not one to leave us hanging, the author goes on to explain in detail using the Passion window and New Alliance window at Bourges Cathedral as examples.

More stories are peppered throughout the medium format book (toss it in a backpack) with suggested behind-the-scenes itinerary for each city and cathedral. For instance, most people who visit Notre-Dame don't realize that the birthplace of Gothic lies about half an hour away - by metro - at the Basilica of Saint-Denis.

The medieval Church invented the use of eye candy, and there is no shortage of it here. Although the concise glossary wouldn't overwhelm the novice, a more experienced cathedral traveler might wish for a bit more (with, perhaps, line illustrations) in the final chapter - a minor quibble in an otherwise fresh, informative look at an ancient subject.

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also see in Virtual Cathedral -> Stained Glass


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