The Gothic Age
³As the third year that followed the year on thousand grew near, there was to be seen over almost all the earth, but especially in Italy and in Gaul, a great renewal of church buildings; each Christian community was driven by a spirit of rivalry to have a more glorious church than the others. It was as if the world had shaken itself, and casting off its old garments, had dressed itself again in every part in a white robe of churches.²
Raoul Glaber, Historia, c.1003
The Gothic Age (c. AD 1130-1530) marked the end to an age of chaos, primarily caused by the sacking and pillaging of the Vikings. After the great minds of Western Europe were freed from using their vast knowledge to defend against invaders or plagues, they now had the time and the resources needed to design any and everything in this era from bridges to city walls and castles to cathedrals. This was also a very religious age, with plenty of money being pumped into the Church, some from the crusades, with all of its included looting, and a lot more from all of the tithes all of the people who were born in the population explosion gave faithfully. Another even bigger source of income for the Church came to it in the shape of power and prestige, when the power of the church peaked in AD 1277.
Not only was this a good time for the Church, but this was also a very good time for all of humanity. The standard of living dramatically rose, and along with it, the population of Western Europe shot up. In 1346, the estimated population of Europe was fifty-four point four million just before the plague hit and wiped out more than a third of the population.1 2 This was more than twice the population of Europeans in the year 950 when it was 22,600,0003 .
While the population was exploding there were so many new cathedrals built that in the relatively short time period of two hundred and fifty years, there was more stone quarried to be used in cathedrals (several million tons) than was quarried during the age of the pyramids in Egypt, where there are pyramids that are over two hundred and fifty million cubic meters big.4
The Gothic age survived many crusades, a plague that didn¹t leave Europe until the late 18th century, and many other horrible atrocities. Following this great age, there was a period without the great accomplishments as in this age, since everyone was just happy using what their forefathers had done. If not for this age, we would today be without many of our modern conveniences, so I firmly believe that this age was essential to modern day living.
Body of Knowledge
Anyone who has ever walked into a true Gothic cathedral knows how much of an impact one can have on a person . The sheer magnificence of it will shut even the noisiest of tourists up. One can only imagine the impact seeing such a place would have on a person who has never had the opportunity to see one of the great wonders of the modern world, such as a skyscraper. The name alone is enough to bring visions of grandeur, or Las Vegas, a place known for its flashy style and glitz. Just think what a person who has never seen either one of these places, or any place anything like it, would think when they saw a choir with a roof so high a fourteen story building could fit in there* and not even touch the rafters.5 And Imagine what you would think of a stadium that was so large it could hold one million people (the largest one today holds a ²mere² forty-two thousand people1). This is what Ameins Cathedral was like when it was built. The entire town of ten thousand people could fit into it all at the same time to go to the same mass. It had a floor that was seven thousand, seven hundred square meters.
New Ideas in the Cathedral that Reflected Christianity
There were many aspects about Gothic cathedrals that reflected the then modern-day ways of life, such as how a common belief in those times was that the closer you were to God, the holier you were. The architects would build huge spires and high ceilings which would make the building look absolutely massive. Another clever technique of the time was to create picture stories on the windows with stained glass since the vast majority of the people couldn¹t read or write to help the common folk learn the Bible without having someone read it to them.
The walls in a Gothic cathedral were way ahead of the walls in the style that preceded Gothic, Romanesque. The walls in Gothic were thin and had a lot of stained glass in them, not to mention the fact that the new style was a lot higher. The reason that the architect could put up thinner, higher walls was because of two new inventions, the flying buttresses and ribbed vaults. The latter of the two, ribbed vaults, sounds simple enough, but it is effective and ingenious enough to have earned a place in history. All they really are, are supports that go from corner to corner like rafters, although, unlike rafters, they are up against the actual ceiling, therefore putting the weight on the corners and, at the same time, effectively supporting the ceiling.
The former of the two inventions, flying buttresses, was also very important, since they, like the ribbed vaults, allowed the architect to build the walls thinner and higher, but it also supported the weight of the walls and the roof. Flying buttresses are basically kickstands that rest up against the side of a cathedral, giving it a wider base, and, a lot like an arching bridge, they put equal pressure from two opposite sides on a keystone.
³[Stained glass windows were] ...a bearer of holy images, an intrinsically rich material resembling valuable stones, and a mystery, because it glowed without fire.²
It was very common in this day for a person not to know how to read, and there was also a great burden on the Church for the villagers to know basic important scriptures, so there had to be pictures on the wall. Since one can only go so far using frescoes, paintings and other ways to portray a picture, stained glass was an interesting alternative. Before since the walls were thicker and build more as a means to support the high ceilings, stained glass never really was an option, but now with the help of the two previously mentioned means of support, the walls could be made thinner so glass also could be used now.
The function of spires goes far beyond just being there for the appearances, since the church bells are kept in the spires. These bells would tell the town what to do, as in time to go to church, time to eat and among many other different things, time itself, and could be heard clearly throughout the entire town.
Even though spires were present before the beginning of the Gothic age, this was the first time they could be built so high, thanks to flying buttresses and ribbed vaults.
When funds were readily available, cathedrals didn¹t take very long to build, usually two stages,Ý although, some times, it took as many as two hundred years. The fastest, though was Chartes, which was built in exactly twenty seven years.6
My Two Favorites
There were many different cathedrals built in the Gothic age, but I think that the two most important ones are the cathedral at Notre-Dame in France, and Abbot Sugar¹s masterpiece, St. Denis, which was mentioned previously for its tremendous size.
Notre Dame of Paris is famous because it was the first cathedral to use flying buttresses as a means of support, 7 and it also was known for its incredible detail. It has many spectacular figures carved into the stone
covering its famous portholes. Notre Dame also has some very famous Rose windows, which show the lines of ancestry (the begating) in the Bible
The St. Denis cathedral is famous for its prodigious size, and the fact that it was the first cathedral to use ribbed vaults. I also really admired the architect of St. Denis, Abbot Sugar, because I agreed with a lot of his points of view on cathedral design. One such example can be found in the quote that I used above, about the stained glass. I totally agree with him that point, because I think cathedrals used to have a strong foundation in first impressions; that if you want your cathedral to make the money necessary for upkeep, you must be willing to impress whomever will be going to the church.
At one time in France, there were over eighty cathedrals, or in other words, a cathedral for every two hundred people. All of these cathedrals being built, not only in France, but also all over Western Europe, needed a lot of stone, and most of it came from France. In fact, by the end of this era, there was so much stone quarried out of Northern France, that the only way to get the rocks needed to build a cathedral, they had to get their bricks from old, run down cathedrals and castles.
A Wonderful Time For the Church
The reason, I think that there were so many cathedrals, not just as a whole, since the amount per capita is just as staggering, was because this was a great time for the church. As I said before, there were no shortages in men and money to build cathedrals, so the only difficulty was just getting your hands on this money.
A Wonderful Time For Mankind
Besides all of the advances in the field of architecture, there also were a great deal of inventions for the everyday man. Inventions that greatly increased the standard of living, and eating habits.
Reasons for this Being such a Wonderful Age
In the Gothic Era, now that there was a high standard of living, the commoners were a little bit closer to being equal with the nobles, which I think was the most important breakthrough that ³broke through² in this age.
Gothic Architecture By Robert Brammer
(c)1961 George Brazzillier New York
Beverly Hills public Library 723.5 B
The Cathedral Builders By Jean Grinner
(c)1993 by Editions du Seuil
Beverly Hills Public Library 726.6
The Gothic Cathedral By Christopher Wilson
(c)1990 Thames and Hudson Ltd. London
Beverly Hills Public Library 726.6 Wilson
Cathedrals and Castles: Building in the Middle Ages By Alain Erlande Translated from French by Rosemary Stone Hewer
(c)1993 Gallimard-- English Translation (c)1995 By Harry N. Abrahms New York and Thames and Hudson Led., London
Beverly Hills Public Library 726.6
Cathedral: The Story of It¹s Construction By David Macaulay (c) 1973 Houlton Mufflin Inc. Boston
Crespi Carmalite High School 726.6Mac
Churches: Their Plan and Furnishing By Peter F. Anson
(c)1948 By the Bruce Publishing Co.
Crespi Carmalite High School 726.1Ans
Compton's Multimedia Encyclopedia, Macintosh Edition (c)1992 Compton's NewMedia, Inc. Version 1.00M