The Geometry of Love

Published by:
HarperFlamingo Canada
ISBN 0-00-255739-8
Penguin Books, Viking
ISBN 0-86547-618-7
Farrar Straus & Giroux
ISBN 0-86547-618-7
View the images which illustrate the text:
Updated for 2004

The Geometry of Love Reviews

"Before I read The Geometry of Love, it seemed to me that no book could ever do what Margaret Visser does. Her visit to St. Agnes outside the Walls is the experience that all of us, tourists, dream about and never achieve. She expertly uses the knowledge made available by modern historical methods but she transfigures it from inside and, in the process, she redeems the apparently unredeemable, tourism itself. She brings it back to its almost completely lost origin, the Christian pilgrimage."
René Girard, author of Things Hidden Since the Foundation of the World

In the Geometry of Love, Margaret Visser takes one church, Sant'Agnese fuori le Mura in Rome, and tells us what it means.

The book sets out to make this church—and at the same time any other church—more accessible to visitors. It is an attempt to give readers an inkling of the spiritual, cultural, and historical riches that any church offers. The Geometry of Love is for people who are not satisfied with dates and measurements, or with texts that studiously avoid anything that might say what the building is about.
"When certain beliefs are being expressed, I take them seriously and say what they are, because that is an indispensable part of the explanation. Sant'Agnese's is a building that is intentionally meaningful: it reveals itself most fully to people prepared to respond to its 'language.' "

The Geometry of Love is on the best of the year lists for both The Toronto Star and The Globe and Mail. It was named number one best seller by Maclean's Magazine.

UK reviews for The Geometry of Love:

The Times,
Wednesday, February 28, 2001

"Margaret Visser makes the journey urgent and necessary, revelatory. She convinces me that I will learn about architecture and archaeology, but also something I might have missed about a more elusive subject – myself...She 'reads' a church as satisfyingly as Ruskin."
reviewed by Jeanette Winterson

Scotland on Sunday,
March 4th, 2001

"I have not read a book like this since, as a student, I struggled with the multiple layers of symbolism and allegory in Dante's Divine Comedy. In the vision of The Geometry of Love, the solid brick, marble and wood dissolve to reveal the underlying meanings of all things. The church is a ship, a forest, a maze, a paradise garden, an image of eternity."
reviewed by Robert Irwin

The Evening Standard,
February 12, 2001

"The quietly formidable Margaret Visser...has produced here another of her great level gazes at why we are how we are. Heretofore, she has ostensibly concentrated her curiosity, erudition and powerful gifts of synthesis mostly upon the secular, if profoundly metaphorical, business of eating. In The Geometry of Love, she addresses faith."
reviewed by Candia McWilliam

The Spectator,
February 15, 2001

"This is quite the best guide on how to visit a Christian church
I have ever seen."
reviewed by Digby Anderson

American reviews for The Geometry of Love:

The Publisher's Weekly
Monday, February 26, 2001

Visser, described as "an anthropologist of everyday life," has written an enthralling, absorbing, and exquisitely researched study of what she calls an "ordinary church." ... Visser brings an obvious love and respect for her subject matter and demonstrates remarkable depth in her knowledge of the church's milieu - from details on the origins of the halo in religious art, to the techniques of mosaic building, to the historical development of virgin-hero myths. ...For the reader, this is rich and thoughtful armchair traveling of the best kind.

Commonweal Magazine
May 4th, 2001

The Geometry of Love is nothing if not beautifully constructed. Rather, each new topic arises effortlesssly out of its predecessor.

The Christian Science Monitor
May 24th, 2001

This delightful book is a biography of a church, St. Agnes Outside the Walls in Rome. Margaret Visser, a onetime professor of classics who has branched out as an "anthropologist of everyday life," has written a guidebook that starts where ordinary guidebooks leave off. Instead of reporting merely the usual tourist information about architectural features of the church and its connections with famous personages, she gives us a profound analysis of it as a representative of churches, specifically Roman Catholic ones, everywhere.
reviewed by Ruth Walker

Canadian reviews for The Geometry of Love:

The Globe and Mail
Saturday, November 25, 2000
from the top 100 list of the year's reviews

"Visser is a bestselling writer with a far-reaching mind, to whom readers can turn when, convinced of and satisfied with their own rational view of the universe, they wish to know more about that mysterious force that holds millions of people around the world — among them legions of rigorous thinkers, scientists, minds both scholarly and sceptical — on their knees in adoration in an 'ordinary' church"
reviewed by Patrick Watson

The Montreal Gazette
Saturday, October 7, 2000

"If the CanLit establishment ever recovers from its trauma at learning that the world is not flat, its next discovery might be another unexpected fact: that Canada's best writers are in the non-fiction field. And they might realize that among the very best of the nation's writers (if one jumps intellectual and artistic tariff walls, erected to protect the mediocre) is Margaret Visser. An award-winning classicist, she has written with conviction and panache on dozens of topics and her The Rituals of Dinner (1991) needs only the passage of time to be labeled a classic. Of course, the CanLit covey has its own complex, if plastic, rules of eligibility, based on place of birth, length of time spent in Canada and willingness to tug the forelock. Forget all that. Margaret Visser should be granted her place as a Canadian national treasure."
reviewed by Donald Harman Akenson

The National Post
September 30, 2000

"Readers familiar with the work of Margaret Visser know her to be a cultural anthropologist of uncommon skill. She has a wonderful capacity for taking the stuff of ordinary living – the rituals around eating, for instance – and making it palatable, indeed enticing, to the non-specialist. Her earlier books, The Rituals of Dinner (1991) and The Way We Are (1994), have already ably demonstrated this. In the very best sense of the term, Visser is a popularizer; she avoids the temptation to' dumb down,' refuses to reduce popular ideas to easily digestible morsels and provokes her readers to think in some new directions. In short, she is the ideal teacher."
reviewed by Michael Higgins

The Globe and Mail
September 23, 2000

"Visser is a best selling writer with a far-reaching mind. Born in South Africa, raised a Catholic and still declaring a deep and much reflected-upon commitment to the faith, she has been a classics professor, a contributing editor to Saturday Night and a regular essayist on CBC Radio. And she is in love with food. Jesus Christ and food. Put that together."
reviewed by Patrick Watson

The Toronto Star
Sunday October 22, 2000

"It's a tour of such scope and erudition that is is difficult to quickly describe what the author has done."
"The Geometry of Love defies skimming. I couldn't. I felt humbled - much like the Christian pilgrim facing the enormity of the past 2,000 years."
reviewed by John Terauds

The Ottawa Citizen
October 1st, 2000

"As a writer, Margaret Visser is a blessing. Anyone who reads The Geometry of Love as carefully as it is written will have the necessary equipment to begin understanding not just the historical underpinnings of a single, small church in Rome, but also the deep, primal impulses that stir human beings to erect places of worship and, against the odds, do what it takes to preserve them into eternity.

The subtitle makes clear that this book goes way beyond architectural and religious history. Visser...has a truly amazing ability to combine erudition with deep personal feeling. As a reader, you feel you'd follow her anywhere. Apses? Bring them on! Arcane, multi-century differences of opinion over where to place an altar? Fascinating! Etymological deconstructions of the Greek and Latin roots of words like chalice, pew and epiphany? Who can get enough?
reviewed by Moira Farr

The Calgary Herald
Saturday October 28, 2000

"Visser was prompted to write a book on the meanings of church adornments by a visit to a tiny Spanish church. A local guide was showing a Japanese tourist the building, commenting on its various features.

Meanwhile, the foreigner was staring aghast – 'as well he might' – at a horrific, life-size carving, painted in brilliant reds and blacks, of a bleeding, tortured man, nailed to two pieces of wood.
Yet, when he wordlessly gestured toward this grotesque artwork, the guide simply smiled and mentioned the date it was carved."
reviewed by Joe Woodard