Last summer, my oldest son gave me a copy of the accompanying book to Kenneth Clark’s magisterial video series, “Civilisation.” So we decided to take advantage of some holiday downtime to watch the series and read along; today’s frigid, snowy weather was a perfect opportunity for it. My favorite episode is the second, “The Great Thaw,” on the flowering of Christendom in the 12th century, which along with the other twelve episodes is on YouTube.

Clark summarizes the episode and century this way:

Chartres is the epitome of the first great awakening in European civilisation. It is also the bridge between Romanesque and Gothic, between the world of Abelard and the world of St. Thomas Aquinas, the world of restless curiosity and the world of system and order. Great things were to be done in the next centuries of high Gothic, great feats of construction, both in architecture and in thought. But they all rested on the foundations of the twelfth century. That was the age which gave European civilisation its impetus. Our intellectual energy, our contact with the great minds of Greece, our ability to move and change, our belief that God may be approached through beauty, our feeling of compassion, our sense of the unity of Christendom — all this, and much more, appeared in those hundred marvelous years between the consecration of Cluny and the rebuilding of Chartres.

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