Available Books

The Great Field by John James

- Souls at Play in a
Conscious Universe

Illusions of Paradise

Illusions of Paradise
- A family's experiences of Bali in 1971

Notes to Transformation - John James

Notes to Transformation
- A guide for the inner journey to the Self

Master Masons of Chartres - John James

The Master Masons of Chartres
- Chartres is one of the most impressive and exciting buildings from the Middle Ages

The Template-Makers of the Paris Basin - John James

The Templatemakers
of the Paris Basin

- Toichological techniques for identifying the pioneers of the Gothic movement

The Contractors of Chartres - John James

The Contractors of

- The basic analysis of the cathedral, how it was built

Arj of God - John James

The Ark of God
- Comprehensive pictorial history of Early Gothic churches in the Paris Basin

In Search of the Unknown in Medieval Architecture

In Search of the Unknown in Medieval Architecture



The Ark of God  by John James


The Creation of Gothic Architecture - an illustrated thesaurus: The Ark of God (Vols 4-5)

"The Evolution of Foliate Capitals in the Paris Basin: the formal capitals 1130-1170"


John James, PhD


West Grinstead Publications, London and Hartley Vale, 2008




Buckram bound, 300mm x 225mm    1778 pages 8,200± illustrations


Aud$1360.00 (+ P&H)
For Currency Conversions Click Here


(Due to the size and weight of this volume you will need to contact me to provide your location details so that shipping costs can then be calulated )


Click to see three sample pages from Glennes, Montron and Etampes.

From the Author:

THE ARK OF GOD is a comprehensive pictorial history of Early Gothic churches in the limestone region of  northern France known as the Paris Basin. The Paris Basin contains 1,420 churches with work from these years. Most have never been published. The photographs will illustrate over half of these which significantly contributed to the creation of the new architecture with the aim of using the evolution of foliate carving to date them, and from this to create a comprehensive history of this most creative period.

Note: The complete set of work is contained in 5 volumes
         (Volumes 1&2, Volume 3 and Volumes 4&5)


The fifty years between 1130 and 1180 produced some of the most original and evocative capitals of the middle ages - a period that was largely responsible for the evolution of the Gothic style. But despite the fact that many are hard to examine in situ and are often too dark to observe closely, they have rarely been published before.

These volumes will therefore be widely welcomed. The 8,200 illustrations cover, in large and exquisite detail, nearly every capital; they include the multitude of works in the great cathedrals and abbeys of the time, including Chartres, Laon, Noyon, Paris, Saint-Denis, Senlis and Sens. The staggering range of individual creativity shows a culture able to reinvent itself in a rare and exciting way.

The publication of the fourth and fifth volumes in the sequence completes the photographic archive of foliate carving from the Paris Basin during the formative two centuries in which architecture and the techniques of building were being transformed. They are also the foundation for subsequent volumes which will establish a chronology for Early Gothic architecture and sculpture, as well as a detailed study of the technical developments in rib vaults and construction methods.

The complete set of work will be contained in 9 volumes
         (Volumes 1+2, Volume 3 and Volumes 4+5) are now published

Review from Paul Crossley, Burlington Magazine April 2008

IN 2004 I REVIEWED for this Magazine the first two volumes of an extraordinary enterprise, John James's projected seven­volume history of the growth of Gothic architecture and architectural sculpture in the north of France and Paris in the area he calls the 'Paris Basin'. To call it a 'history' may seem a misnomer, because as it stands so far it is really more of a photographic inventory and description of around d 1,420 churches, each containing work from the period from c.II30 to c.I250. Most of these churches have never before been recorded or published; and few of them have been brought together to be analysed in terms of date and style. One of the aims of this almost super­ human exercise is to provide a photographic description of all the more significant churches built during this 130-year period.

In itself this alone would make the book an invaluable resource. But the enterprise is a history, albeit of a rather unusual kind. For its wider purpose is to analyse the stylistic development of early and High Gothic in France by examining changes to foliate capitals and the evolution of building techniques, thus pinpointing the time and place of the leading inventions of Gothic architecture. Yet another historical aim is to establish a solid and inclusive foundation for dating the construction phases of these churches, by comparing the little that remains of the documentary evidence for their construction with the changing patterns of their visual details (especially capital design). And all this effort is directed towards the goal of establishing a vast chronological matrix, which allows the specialist to identity the time and place for each of the creative ideas, inventions and innovations that produced the Gothic style, and to follow their evolution, identifying their major creators.

For James, medieval carved capitals are our best visual evidence for showing morphological change and chronology. 'Capitals', he asserts, 'reflect the average mode of their time' (vol.I, p.2), The first two volumes of this magnum opus are accordingly filled with over nine thousand black-and-white photographs of foliate capitals in the 'Paris Basin' churches from c.II70/80 to c.I220. Rather misleadingly, James calls these capitals 'natural' because they contain organic forms which become increasingly naturalistic, until they reach the really imitative leaf forms of Reims Cathedral and the Sainte­Chapelle in Paris. But to locate the origins of these 'natural' capitals in the austere and rigid crocket capital (of the 1170s onwards) seems strange, given the fact that they supersede the lush and vegetal capitals of the late Romanesque. The volumes under review here (vols.III-V) represent an earlier phase in Gothic (some might say late Romanesque) design, and deal with foliate capitals from c.II30 to c.II70. The capitals in this stage James designates, again a little misleadingly, as 'formal', whereas in fact they display, as he says 'an eccentric willfulness', the masons' 'personal paean of praise to life and its fulfilment' (vol.IV, p.2). They are certainly rich and intricate. Consistent with the method of the first two volumes, James then establishes a list of historically verifiable dates for certain buildings and their capitals, and from that evidence, and by way of analogy and comparison, he then establishes the character of each of his thousands of capitals, dating and organising each according to their decade ('decadic mode'). This 'decadic' criterion is central to James's method. Capitals tend to change in character every ten years (he argues), thus providing a matrix for the dating of any capital - and therefore also the buildings (over a thousand of them) to which they belong.

As in volumes I and II, James is in his element when immersed in the detail. The hidden parts of a medieval building, he suggests, show us the craftsman at his most natural. As in his controversial monograph on Chartres Cathedral, James starts his analysis in the hidden crannies of the church, photographing and analysing details that have remained hidden and unstudied since their installation. There is a strong sense in these volumes, as in the earlier ones, of a kinship between James and the medieval mason; of a man who knows the stones better than anyone except their original makers. The nine thousand or so capitals, which he and his wife have photographed in these first five volumes, present us with an unprecedented conspectus of Gothic carving in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. The photographs, all black and white, are mostly of very high quality, especially given the obscurity and inaccessibility of their subjects. The thirty-four pages of capitals from Saint-Remi at Reims, for example, or the 126 pages of capitals at Saint-Denis, form a remarkable treasury (he calls his photographs 'thesaureses') of visual evidence. And there are remote and obscure buildings which may well have enjoyed their art-historical debut thanks to James (see, for example, Oulchy-le-Chateau, vo1.V, pp.I033-46).

These five volumes on capital design bring to an end what James calls the preparatory work on his project. They set the stage and provide the evidence; they even allow that evidence to 'speak for itself.' And now, as he hopes, 'the real work on finalizing the chronology for over 700 buildings and tens of thousands of capitals can get underway' (vol.IV, p.4). The last two volumes (still to appear) suggest that all this evidence will go towards a broad picture of the architectural development of Gothic in northern France, starting with the evolution of the rib vault in Europe and then the inventions that created Gothic, finishing with a corpus of early Gothic churches. Somehow all this detail will provide the basis for a complex chronology, and beyond that, a history of architectural development. This is induction with a vengeance, a belief that God dwells in the detail, and that Gothic is best studied not only from the vantage point of the great cathedrals, but also from the myriad small churches, each providing clues to a vast network of influence and exchange.

But does this method of proceeding from the bottom upwards, from the ultra-particular to the universal, have its methodological flaws? Can we really date these buildings to a plus-minus approximation of a decade? Do the capitals of the Trinity chapel in Canterbury show a more advanced progress towards the 'natural' and away from the formal because they belong to a decade later than those in the choir, or because the classicising character of the chapel demanded something more like a Corinthian acanthus? Why do all forms of ornament have to appear similar simultaneously and in tandem? Does an older sculptor have to change styles to conform to the 'natural' fashion of the decade, or can he not continue to carve (with the aesthetic freedom James attributes to him) in his older, 'formal' manner? Perhaps James's datings are just too tidy, a little too categorical. I find his statement about the so-called 'Wall Master' and his successor, the 'Vault Master', in the choir of Saint-Denis too neat and accurate to be convincing: 'These [the ambulatory piers] are the work of the Vault Master who changed the earlier plan for deep chapels into the present open arrangement. He succeeded the Wall Master who had had to leave the site while the mortar of the window arches was setting' (vol.V, p.1275).

The implication of this analysis - that changes in setting out and design mean changes in architect, and that changes in capital design fall into definite decades - are far-reaching in their implications. In James's deterministic summa, chronology can be plotted with astonishing accuracy by comparative analysis, while the smallest changes in detail and setting out can herald the appearance of a new architect. Yet we know (and James knows) from (for example) Gervase of Canterbury's description of the work of William of Sens in Canterbury, that medieval architects could introduce considerable changes to their initial designs during their period of office. No change in personnel need be inferred.

James will not be surprised by this kind of scepticism. From his massive two-volume study of Chartres Cathedral of 1979 to his formidable book on Early and High Gothic in France of 1989, to his individual studies of the vaults of Durham and the 'multiple contractors' of Saint-Denis, he has been criticised for an over-mechanical and ahistorical approach to chronological and archaeological analysis. Where he is unassailable is in his almost superhuman knowledge of the buildings themselves. The value of these volumes on the foliate capitals, like those on the formal capitals, lies in their superb collection of visual data, and the potential of this data to reshape our history of French Gothic. Incidentally, James has already done this in his earlier two volumes, and in his Template Makers book, where his extraordinarily close analysis of the fabric of both Bourges and Soissons cathedrals has established a new dating for both - a dating which throws into a whol1y new light the birth of High Gothic architecture in France.

Most of the present, High Gothic elevation of the choir of Soissons was, he argued convincingly, already planned by 1190, that is, four years before the beginning of the new cathedral at Chartres, which, until then, had been usually accepted as the first of the High Gothic cathedrals. The same radical rethinking was reserved for his analysis of the crypt capitals at Bourges cathedral in his volume II of The Ark of God. Here he could confirm Peter Kidson's case for the beginning of the chevet at Bourges, and therefore probably for the basic shape of the whole cathedral, in the early 1180s. And James did so by the most convincing comparison of the crypt's capitals with a broad swathe of capital-carving in the Ile­de-France dating to the same decade, and earlier. Interestingly, James's method here was not concerned so much with influence as with chronology, so he missed the clear connections (first pointed out by Alexandra Gajewski) between the Bourges crypt capitals and those in the choir of Vezelay, dated to the late 1170s and early 1180s. The relative proximity of Bourges to Burgundy makes the connection all the stronger.

But what matters in this context is the beneficial impact James's visual inferences have on our conventional stylistic categories. Like Soissons, Bourges has now emerged, not as a High Gothic successor to Chartres, but a clear predecessor - perhaps, indeed, the first High Gothic design in France. If this is the kind of broad conclusion which will come out of James's mountains of detail, then we can only look forward all the more keenly to the final volumes of this massive enterprise, which promise to deal with no less than 650 buildings in the Paris Basin - and in terms of broader questions of architectural invention: with vaults, construction techniques, economic influences and the building industry. In the meantime we have to thank James for giving us a remarkable 'treasury' of visual data.

For Crossley's first review click here, for Philippe Plaigneux's in the Bulletin Monumental click here, and for Caroline Bruzelius' in Speculum click here.