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NOVA: Building The Great Cathedrals

Airs Wednesday, December 25, 2013 at 9 p.m. on KPBS TV

Above: Beauvais Cathedral, located in Beauvais, France. Carved from a hundred million pounds of stone, soaring effortlessly atop a spider web of masonry, Gothic cathedrals are marvels of human achievement and artistry. But how did medieval builders reach such spectacular heights?

Carved from a hundred million pounds of stone, soaring effortlessly atop a spider web of masonry, Gothic cathedrals are marvels of human achievement and artistry. But how did medieval builders reach such spectacular heights?

The alter in Amiens Cathedral, the tallest Gothic church and largest cathedral in France.
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Above: The alter in Amiens Cathedral, the tallest Gothic church and largest cathedral in France.

Gargoyle on Amiens Cathedral, the tallest Gothic church and largest cathedral in France.
Enlarge this image

Above: Gargoyle on Amiens Cathedral, the tallest Gothic church and largest cathedral in France.

Consuming the labor of entire towns, sometimes taking a hundred years to build, these architectural marvels were crafted from just hand tools and stone. Many now teeter on the brink of catastrophic collapse.

To save them, an international team of engineers, architects, art historians and computer scientists searches the naves, bays and bell-towers for clues to how the dream of these heavenly temples on earth came true.

In "Building The Great Cathedrals," NOVA’s teams perform hands-on experiments to investigate and reveal the architectural secrets that the cathedral builders used to erect their soaring, glass-filled walls.

On this dazzling journey, inside the jewels of Gothic architecture, the filmmakers of the award-winning NOVA documentary “Secrets of the Parthenon” reveal the hidden formulas, drawn from the pages of the Bible itself, that drove medieval builders ever upward, clues to life’s breathtaking diversity in ways he could scarcely have imagined. This program originally aired in 2011.

Past episodes of NOVA are available for online viewing. NOVA is on Facebook, and you can follow @novapbs on Twitter.

Video

Preview: NOVA: Building The Great Cathedrals

Above: How did medieval builders reach such spectacular heights using only hand tools to create the great cathedrals? NOVA teams perform hands-on experiments to learn the architectural secrets that the cathedral builders used to erect their towering, glass-filled walls and reveal the hidden formulas, drawn from the Bible that drove medieval builders ever upward.

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Building The Great Cathedrals: Bonus Scene: Science And Religion

Above: Gothic builders created soaring Cathedrals as places to worship God. But, they also encoded their architecture and sculpture with pagan symbols and statues of scientific thinkers. Join author Philip Ball as he deciphers the stone carvings of Chartres Cathedral. Watch this bonus scene from "Building the Great Cathedrals."