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Gothic Architecture


Gothic architecture originated in Northern France in the 12th century and was a gradual evolution of the Romanesque. This style spread rapidly to England and the European mainland, and was the dominant expression of the Gothic period into the 15th century. This style was created by Abbot Suger, an advisor to the French Kings between 1137-1144. Gothic architecture demanded major financial resources and the best artistic talent medieval society had to offer.

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Chartres Cathedral--Exterior
Chartres Cathedral
Gothic architecture was developed from a Christian perspective, and therefore attained its most meaningful expression in churches. Clerics began to demand taller churches with more windows than had been present in the dark, but sturdy Romanesque churches. This desire was derived from new intellectual and spiritual concepts that took a more rational view of God, and saw God encompassed many things, such as light, reason and proportion. The Gothic church displayed a visual attempt to leave behind the mysterious world of the Romanesque, and create a setting that was drawn toward light and purity that could be an image of heaven. The middle class also had a great influence on the Gothic style as they desired churches that could reflect their economic power and social status.

The most magnificent characteristics of Gothic style were the use of light and relationship between structure and appearance. Other defining characteristics were that the massive thickness of the walls from Romanesque architecture were replaced with membrane-thin frameworks used for enclosure which could support nothing but their own weight. Ribbed vaults were used to allow lighter materials to be placed between stone ribs, thus reducing weight. The weight of the walls and roof were no longer supported by columns, but by external flying buttresses. They also used pointed arches and slender columns to lift the ceiling, which created an overwhelming height. Wall paintings, which had been common in the Romanesque, were now replaced with beautiful and enormous stained glass windows that allowed more light into the structures, imbuing all with a sense of warmth and color.

Chartres Cathedral-Interior
Chartres Cathedral--Interior
The cathedral at Chartres was built during the Gothic period, and it showed an ideal of harmony within its structure and contents. Work on the cathedral started in 1194, and was mostly completed in 1220. It emphasizes strong vertical lines in its structure. The stained glass windows that are used in this cathedral, (it has 176), are recognized as the finest example from the gothic style. Today, 94% of the stained glass is original, and it is the largest, most extensive collection of medieval glass in the world. Rose windows were used. The primary subject of the great roses is the Virgin and the Child. The rose windows created wholeness and completeness. Indeed, it has a special relationship to the Virgin Mary in that it portrayed more realistic and humane qualities of the Virgin Mary. The cathedral reflects the strong influence that God held over the people at that time. It shows an expression of piety and local identity to those that were proud to live in the vicinity of the cathedral itself. It enhanced civic pride, and was the focus of the town itself.


1. Mattews, R.T (1997) The Western Humanities (3rd ed.). p. 224-239 + 252-257 Mountain view, Ca: Mayfield Publishing.

2. Moore, C.H (1890) Development & Character of Gothic Architecture p. 1-31 New York: Macmillan & Co

3. Simson, O.V (1962) The Gothic Cathedral p. 3-20. New York: Harper Torchbooks.

4. Sullivan, R.E (1994) A Short History of Western Civilization (8th ed.). p.304-310 New York: Mc Graw-Hill, Inc.

5. Ronals Tobey, John Fitchen's The Construction of Gothic Cathedrals http://www.lucknow.com/horus/etexts/fitchen.html

6. http://www.arch.unsw.edu.au/subjects/arch/specres2/hickman/churches/goth.htm

7. http://www.afn.org/~afn03098/cppaper.htm

8. http://www.ced.berkeley.edu/arch170/past/96fall/961121.html

9. http://www.tam.itesm.mx/~jdorante/art/gotico/igotico_004.htm

10. http://www2.hawaii.edu/~carry/chart.html

11. Images copyright by Jeffery Howe [email protected]. <http://www.bc.edu/bc_org/avp/cas/fnart/arch/gothic/chartres.html> Used by permission.

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