Heaven on Earth: The Lives and Legacies of the World’s Greatest Cathedrals

heaven on earth book

Wells is an impeccable guide to the visual iconography and symbolism of the cathedrals.

The Times 

Emma J. Wells has written an accessible, authoritative and lavishly illustrated account of the building of 16 of ‘the world’s greatest cathedrals… The book gives full weight to the wealth of legends associated with cathedrals.

The Spectator

Dr Wells brings these buildings vividly to life, peopling them with their authors and sponsors, their triumphs and tribulations, and beautifully illustrated.  

Simon Jenkins, Country Life 

History Revealed‘s Book of the Month (September 2022)

…Captures the particularity of these cathedrals, and…is filled with tales of local patrons, craftsmen and the wider politics of the kingdoms in which these cathedrals were built. 

Catholic Herald

The rebuilding of Canterbury Cathedral following the fire of 1174 is a project we can still experience today. Over a million people from across the globe are welcomed through the doors at Canterbury every year. But this is just one story.

Heaven On Earth – an illuminating narrative of the conception and legacies of sixteen of the world’s greatest cathedrals – is interwoven with an exploration of the lives, legends and scandals of the people who built them – both up on the pinnacles and down in the crypts. Much more than a series of individual biographies of the buildings, it is a human story set against the backdrop of the most astonishing achievements of Western culture, bringing to life those who have too often been reduced to abstractions of ‘mason’ or ‘bishop’ to provide the reader with a sense of walking through this glorious Age of Faith. The central focus of the book is, however, the zenith of cathedral building, spanning the millennium 500 to 1500 AD, sweeping from Byzantine grandeur to the more modern interpretations found in Milan and Moscow, when the architect – as we understand the profession today – began to emerge. An epilogue will then explore the evolution of the role and influence of the cathedral across art, culture, and society from Coventry to California, and the changing styles in our midst.

Transporting the reader from the chaotic atmosphere of the masons’ yard to the cloisters of power, each chapter is a journey of exploration through a different cathedral. It takes in their cultural landscapes, the physical settings, as well as the personal stories, relationships and tragedies that marked each architectural revolution, from the largest gothic cathedral in Northern Europe, York Minster of England, where countless disasters (deliberate, accidental and foolish) wreaked havoc on its fabric, to the Hagia Sophia of modern-day Turkey in the south, an iconic landmark in which are entwined the legacies of medieval Christianity, the Ottoman Empire, resurgent Islam and secular societies. Together, the stories reveal how these physical embodiments of Heaven helped shape modern Europe and changed the world – each a story more riveting than the next. Welcome to the real Pillars of the Earth.

Published by Head of Zeus. 

Read an excerpt at The Church Times.