The Gothic AgeIntroductionThe Gothic AgeAs the third year that followed the year on thousand grew near, therewas to be seen over almost all the earth, but especially in Italy and in Gaul, agreat renewal of church buildings; each Christian community was driven by aspirit of rivalry to have a more glorious church than the others.
It was as ifthe world had shaken itself, and casting off its old garments, had dresseditself again in every part in a white robe of churches.Raoul Glaber, Historia, c.1003The 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 greatminds of Western Europe were freed from using their vast knowledge to defendagainst invaders or plagues, they now had the time and the resources needed todesign any and everything in this era from bridges to city walls and castles tocathedrals.
This was also a very religious age, with plenty of money beingpumped into the Church, some from the crusades, with all of its includedlooting, and a lot more from all of the tithes all of the people who were bornin the population explosion gave faithfully. Another even bigger source ofincome for the Church came to it in the shape of power and prestige, when thepower of the church peaked in AD 1277.Not only was this a good time for the Church, but this was also a verygood time for all of humanity. The standard of living dramatically rose, andalong with it, the population of Western Europe shot up. In 1346, the estimatedpopulation of Europe was fifty-four point four million just before the plaguehit and wiped out more than a third of the population.1 2 This was more thantwice the population of Europeans in the year 950 when it was 22,600,0003 .
While the population was exploding there were so many new cathedralsbuilt 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 arepyramids that are over two hundred and fifty million cubic meters big.4The Gothic age survived many crusades, a plague that didnt leave Europeuntil the late 18th century, and many other horrible atrocities. Following thisgreat 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 forthis age, we would today be without many of our modern conveniences, so I firmlybelieve that this age was essential to modern day living.Body of KnowledgeGothic ArchitectureAnyone who has ever walked into a true Gothic cathedral knows how muchof an impact one can have on a person . The sheer magnificence of it will shuteven the noisiest of tourists up. One can only imagine the impact seeing such aplace would have on a person who has never had the opportunity to see one of thegreat wonders of the modern world, such as a skyscraper.
The name alone isenough to bring visions of grandeur, or Las Vegas, a place known for its flashystyle and glitz. Just think what a person who has never seen either one ofthese places, or any place anything like it, would think when they saw a choirwith a roof so high a fourteen story building could fit in there* and not eventouch the rafters.5 And Imagine what you would think of a stadium that was solarge it could hold one million people (the largest one today holds a “mere”forty-two thousand people1). This is what Ameins Cathedral was like when it wasbuilt. The entire town of ten thousand people could fit into it all at the sametime to go to the same mass.
It had a floor that was seven thousand, sevenhundred square meters.New Ideas in the Cathedral that Reflected ChristianityThere were many aspects about Gothic cathedrals that reflected the thenmodern-day ways of life, such as how a common belief in those times was that thecloser you were to God, the holier you were. The architects would build hugespires and high ceilings which would make the building look absolutely massive. Another clever technique of the time was to create picture stories on thewindows with stained glass since the vast majority of the people couldnt reador write to help the common folk learn the Bible without having someone read itto them.-WallsThe walls in a Gothic cathedral were way ahead of the walls in the stylethat preceded Gothic, Romanesque.
The walls in Gothic were thin and had a lotof stained glass in them, not to mention the fact that the new style was a lothigher. The reason that the architect could put up thinner, higher walls wasbecause of two new inventions, the flying buttresses and ribbed vaults. Thelatter of the two, ribbed vaults, sounds simple enough, but it is effective andingenious enough to have earned a place in history. All they really are, aresupports that go from corner to corner like rafters, although, unlike rafters,they are up against the actual ceiling, therefore putting the weight on thecorners and, at the same time, effectively supporting the ceiling.The former of the two inventions, flying buttresses, was also veryimportant, since they, like the ribbed vaults, allowed the architect to buildthe walls thinner and higher, but it also supported the weight of the walls andthe roof. Flying buttresses are basically kickstands that rest up against theside 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.
-Stained Glass”Stained glass windows were …a bearer of holy images, anintrinsically rich material resembling valuable stones, and a mystery, becauseit glowed without fire.” -Abbot SugarIt was very common in this day for a person not to know how to read, andthere was also a great burden on the Church for the villagers to know basicimportant scriptures, so there had to be pictures on the wall. Since one canonly go so far using frescoes, paintings and other ways to portray a picture,stained glass was an interesting alternative.
Before since the walls werethicker and build more as a means to support the high ceilings, stained glassnever really was an option, but now with the help of the two previouslymentioned means of support, the walls could be made thinner so glass also couldbe used now.-SpiresThe function of spires goes far beyond just being there for theappearances, since the church bells are kept in the spires. These bells wouldtell the town what to do, as in time to go to church, time to eat and among manyother different things, time itself, and could be heard clearly throughout theentire 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 buttressesand ribbed vaults.
CathedralsWhen funds were readily available, cathedrals didnt take very long tobuild, usually two stages, although, some times, it took as many as two hundredyears. The fastest, though was Chartes, which was built in exactly twenty sevenyears.6My Two FavoritesThere were many different cathedrals built in the Gothic age, but Ithink that the two most important ones are the cathedral at Notre-Dame in France,and Abbot Sugars masterpiece, St. Denis, which was mentioned previously for itstremendous size.Notre Dame of Paris is famous because it was the first cathedral to useflying buttresses as a means of support, 7 and it also was known for itsincredible detail. It has many spectacular figures carved into the stonecovering its famous portholes.
Notre Dame also has some very famous Rosewindows, which show the lines of ancestry (the begating) in the BibleThe St. Denis cathedral is famous for its prodigious size, and the factthat it was the first cathedral to use ribbed vaults. I also really admired thearchitect of St.
Denis, Abbot Sugar, because I agreed with a lot of his pointsof view on cathedral design. One such example can be found in the quote that Iused above, about the stained glass. I totally agree with him that point,because I think cathedrals used to have a strong foundation in firstimpressions; that if you want your cathedral to make the money necessary forupkeep, you must be willing to impress whomever will be going to the church.ConclusionAt one time in France, there were over eighty cathedrals, or in otherwords, a cathedral for every two hundred people. All of these cathedrals beingbuilt, not only in France, but also all over Western Europe, needed a lot ofstone, and most of it came from France.
In fact, by the end of this era, therewas so much stone quarried out of Northern France, that the only way to get therocks needed to build a cathedral, they had to get their bricks from old, rundown cathedrals and castles.A Wonderful Time For the ChurchThe reason, I think that there were so many cathedrals, not just as awhole, since the amount per capita is just as staggering, was because this was agreat time for the church. As I said before, there were no shortages in men andmoney to build cathedrals, so the only difficulty was just getting your hands onthis money.
A Wonderful Time For MankindBesides all of the advances in the field of architecture, there alsowere a great deal of inventions for the everyday man. Inventions that greatlyincreased the standard of living, and eating habits.Reasons for this Being such a Wonderful Age In the Gothic Era, now that therewas a high standard of living, the commoners were a little bit closer to beingequal with the nobles, which I think was the most important breakthrough that “”broke through” in this age.BibliographyGothic Architecture By Robert Brammer, 1961 George Brazzillier New YorkBeverly Hills public Library 723.5 BThe Cathedral Builders By Jean Grinner, 1993 by Editions du SeuilBeverly Hills Public Library 726.6The Gothic Cathedral By Christopher Wilson, 1990 Thames and Hudson Ltd.
LondonBeverly Hills Public Library 726.6 WilsonCathedrals and Castles: Building in the Middle Ages By Alain Erlande. Translated from French by Rosemary Stone Hewer 1993 Gallimard– EnglishTranslation 1995 By Harry N.
Abrahms New York and Thames and Hudson Led.,London Beverly Hills Public Library 726.6Cathedral: The Story of It’s Construction By David Macaulay, 1973 HoultonMufflin Inc. Boston Crespi Carmalite High School 726.
6MacChurches: Their Plan and Furnishing By Peter F. Anson, 1948 By the BrucePublishing Co. Crespi Carmalite High School 726.1AnsCompton’s Multimedia Encyclopedia, Macintosh Edition, 1992 Compton’s NewMedia,Inc.