In order to raise the walls and towers of a great cathedral, it is necessary to raise something else firstmoney. Without the ability to finance such a huge project, many of the grandest European churches would not exist in such exquisite form.
Gold Was the Mortar is the story of the creation of eight medieval cathedrals, located at Paris, Amiens, Toulouse, Lyon, Strasbourg, York, Poitiers, and Rouen. Author Henry Kraus has chosen these particular buildings not because they are the most luxurious examples of Gothic architecture but because they demonstrate the wide variety of problems faced by medieval men and women in their quest to finance and construct enduring monuments to their faith.
Faith played an enormous part, but faith alone could not put up a cathedral. Kraus studies the struggles between an entrenched Church hierarchy and a newly developing and rising merchant class. Commercially successful burghers with expanding social aspirations were sometimes encouraged and sometimes thwarted in their efforts to contribute to a cathedral’s building fund. By sifting through wills, endowments, and other contemporary documents, Kraus presents a picture of a populace eager to add to its religious and political prestige by economic means, and a wealthy Church hierarchy determined to raise its cathedrals on its own terms, controlling the flow of money into and out of its coffers.
Each of these eight cases, Kraus reminds us, is different. Cathedrals did not go up on an exact timetable. One was built in as little as fifty years, another took almost three hundred. In addition to the economic and political disputes among the many contributors and factions, the author details struggles within the Church hierarchy itself and the long gaps in the construction of two cathedrals (in Toulouse and Poitiers) due to the subjugation of the local population and the expropriation of land by conquerors.
Religious fervor, social turmoil, and huge amounts of time and money. Gold Was the Mortar is a rich source of information about a little known aspect of medieval life. In the final analysis, as Kraus remarks, “A medieval cathedral’s monetary adventures are often far from dull.”
Praise for Gold Was The Mortar:
“Kraus has gone from alpha to omega, to give us a look at cathedrals, the most complex and ambitious art form ever devised.”Smithsonian
“The author has an uncanny way of entering the period .Indeed, in terms of the human dimension, of money and its ways, we see a new bridge of understanding between that period and our own.”Los Angeles Times
“This is a well-researched and richly annotated study, full of interesting details about the society of the Gothic period. It is a readable book that should attract a wide audience.”Speculum
About the Author
Henry Kraus (19051995) spent a decade in the labor movement, participating in the pivotal 1937 sitdown strike at the Ford Motors plant in Flint, Michigan. He moved to France during the 1950s, becoming an authority on medieval art. Among his books are The Living Theater of Medieval Art, The Gothic Choirstalls of Spain (with Dorothy Kraus), The Hidden World of Misericords (with Dorothy Kraus), and Heroes of Unwritten Story: The UAW 19341939. Kraus was awarded the prestigious MacArthur Fellowship in 1984.