Paper on Gothic Cathedrals

This essay has a total of 889 words and 4 pages.

Gothic Cathedrals


The church in the Middle Ages was a place that all people, regardless of class, could
belong to. As a source of unity, its influence on art and architecture was great during
this time. As society drew away from the feudal system of the Romanesque period, a new
spirit of human individualism began to take hold; alas, the birth of Gothic. Here, the
Church became a place where humanity became more acceptable, alas becoming the ideal place
to visual such new ideals. The beauty and elegance of Gothic architecture is depicted most
in the great cathedrals of the 12th, 13th and 14th centuries—St. Denis, Notre Dame,
Chartres, Salisbury, Durham, Amiens, and more. The experience of looking at one of the
great gothic cathedrals is to look up towards God. Indeed, most Gothic structures
emphasize the vertical, drawing one's eyes upwards toward the heavens with the awesomeness
of God.


These cathedrals were built with towering spires, pointed arches and flying buttresses
giving impressions of harmony and luminosity. One of the major accomplishments of the 12th
and 13th centuries was to develop the engineering mastery of the ribbed vault, pointed
arch and flying buttress to create a great cathedral that is at once taller, lighter,
wider, and more elegant than the ones before. Even though the pointed arch could support
more weight than its predecessors, there was still the problem of finding a way to support
the heavy masonry ceiling vaults over wide spans. In order to support the outward thrust
of barrel vaults, vertical support walls have to be very thick and heavy. What makes
possible the extensive use of ribbed vaulting and pointed arches to "open" and "lighten"
the walls and space of the cathedral is the flying buttress—"an arched bridge above the
aisle roof that extends from the upper nave wall, where the lateral thrust of the main
vault is greatest, down to a solid pier." [Jansen, History of Art, p. 407]. The effect is
to add structural strength and solidity to the building. The visual appearance of changes
from the Early and Later or High Gothic are clear, as each cathedral became increasingly
narrower and taller. For instance, compare the nave elevations of Notre-Dame to Amiens
[Text, fig. 442, p. 333], the pointed arches of Amiens are significantly taller and
narrower than the much earlier Notre Dame.


The mastery of the flying buttress allowed medieval builders to construct taller and more
elegant looking buildings with more complex ground plans. Encyclopedia Britannica '97
describes the "flying" effect of this buttress of hiding the masonry supports of the
structure: "a semi-detached curved pier connects with an arch to a wall and extends (or
"flies") to the ground or a pier some distance away. The delicate elegance of Gothic
cathedrals is different from the "Heavy buttresses jutting out between the chapels" of
Romanesque churches,. From the outside, aesthetic consideration of the flying buttresses
was significant and "its shape could express support…according to the designer's sense
of style." The flying buttress was first used on a monumental scale at Notre Dame From the
outsider the flying buttresses create a seemingly bewildering mass of soaring props,
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