Friday, June 3, 2011

Gothic Cathedrals

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Between the years 117 and 1144, a new cathedral style arose that proved important to the Medieval World Gothic. The creator of this new style, Abbot Suger, achieved both spiritual and political goals through his work. The unique style of the Gothic cathedral grew popular and spread throughout Medieval Europe. However, most importantly, the Gothic cathedrals made concrete the religious philosophy that the spiritual ruled a material world.


Abbot Suger became the originator of the Gothic design for cathedrals. Suger lived as one of the leading figures in France in the 1th century. When he was about eight or nine, he befriended Louis VI in their upbringing at the abbey of St.-Denis. He worked in service for Louis VI as a confidant, advisor, and diplomat. When Louis VI and his wife took part in the Second Crusade, he appointed Suger his regent. During his time as a regent, Suger made the strengthening of the monarchy his life’s work. He knew the importance of increasing the monarchy’s spiritual status, for the French king’s temporal powers proved greatly restricted. He wanted to establish a “Spiritual Center” for France, whose political authority had eroded since the death of Charlemagne. In 11, he became abbot of St.-Denis, and he pursued his dream of restoring the abbey’s former prestige by renovating the neglected fabric of the church in hopes to inspire worship and reinforce spirituality.


Suger‘s life work revolved around the twin goals of building up both the kingdom of France and the Catholic Church. The nobles, who at the time served as vassals, overwhelmed the kings; the kings only ruled the Ile-de-France, and even there, they found their authority challenged. Suger played a key role, as chief advisor to Louis VI, in the expansion of royal power. When the bishop began to design St.-Denis, the Dukes of Normandy, who were simultaneously the Kings of England, contested the King of France’s authority. The Counts of Champagne also dominated the king, for they held more lands and had more wealth than him. However, Suger, along with Louis VI consolidated the royal power, thus allowing him to reclaim monastic lands.


St.-Denis proved important not only to Suger, but to France, also. Suger desired the abbey to become, “a pilgrimage church to outshine the splendor of all the others, the focal point of religious as well as patriotic emotion.” St-Denis stood as a symbol of royal power and the glory of both the monarchy and France. The abbey honored and existed as the shrine to the missionary, St. Denis, who first brought Christianity to France.# St.-Denis served as the site of the coronations of Charlemagne and his father Pepin, and served as the burial place of Charles Martel, Pepin, and Charles the Bald. St.-Denis showed importance, for kings sent their children there for education for many generations. Also the unique Gothic design, used first at St.-Denis, set the guide for a whole series of cathedrals, thus making Suger the creator of Gothic.


Custom Essays on Gothic Cathedrals


Gothic cathedrals expressed a unique fusion of form and space. Gothic Cathedrals contained architectural elements that collectively defined the style including vaults, pointed arches, and flying buttresses. The Romanesque style of cathedrals that proceeded the


Gothic, relied on the use of semicircular arches as structural elements and to create ceiling vaults. The design approach of the semicircular arches limited the height of the bay, for it required the height to be equal to the width. This property thus required the building of heavy support columns and the cascading of a series of arches to span large areas. This tended to limit the height of the exterior walls and resulted in a building with a squat, heavy effect. Abbott Suger and his architects chose to use the pointed arch which enabled them to increase the height of the vaults to new and inspiring heights. These heights became possible by the property of the pointed arch, for it could spring to any height and span any distance along as the two sides of the arch balanced in size and pitch. The flexibility also made it possible to build vaults with even crowns with no loss of strength. More importantly the pointed arch made it possible to build cathedrals with oblong or rectangular shaped naives. Additionally the architects discovered they could build even higher walls than before, if supported externally by the use of a half pointed arch which became known as the flying buttress. The resulting unique Gothic design joined these elements producing a rectangular nave with externally supported high thin walls topped with lofty pointed vaults. The effect accentuated the vertical over the horizontal, echoing the religious theme of the triumph of the spiritual over the material.


The Gothic passion for light had a profound theological significance. Plato argued that light was also the means by which the intellect perceived truth. Light could pass through glass without breaking it, which became a symbol of Immaculate Conception. The use of light transported people to a strange region between earth and the purity of heaven. The originator of this philosophy, Dionysius the Areopagite, a disciple of Saint Paul’s, believed in the unity of all things. For Dionysius, light stood as the highest expression of this unity, which he believed existed before creation and from which all


things were made. In short he believed that “God was Light” and that God’s light reflected in all things in accordance to their nature.The origins of the Abbot Suger’s belief in this philosophy, stem from his schooling at St.- Denis which housed an important early Latin translation of the works of Dionysius. This reverence for light motivated the Abbott to bring an abundance of natural light into the cathedral through the placement of


rows of windows high along the walls of the entire structure which became a hallmark of Gothic cathedral design. Abbot Sugar documented his association to Dionysian thought in his autobiographical account of the building of the cathedral at Saint Denis entitled “On His Administration”. In that treatise, he quoted a poem he wrote and had engraved over the doors of the cathedral which said in part, “The noble work is bright, but, being nobly bright, the work should brighten the minds, allowing them to travel through the lights to the true light”. A broader reading of Suger’s writings suggested that Suger conceived the Gothic cathedral as a monument of applied theology.


Following the completion of the cathedral of Saint Denis at the Ile-de- France in 1144, the gothic style of cathedral spread throughout Europe. Over the next two hundred and fifty years architects built impressive cathedrals in England, greater France, Germany, Italy and finally in Spain. As this vibrant style spread, it often adapted and refined to suit local tastes. The rapid spread of the new gothic design came from the success of the design as the expression of medieval religious sensibilities. The political skills of Abbott Sugar may have also contributed to the spread of this new style. For example, Suger arranged for five archbishops and fourteen European Bishops to attend the opening of the new Cathedral at Saint Denis. This widely attended ceremony succeeded in affirming the relationship between God and King and King and Church.


The Cathedral at Chartres, in France, represented the fullest expression of classic gothic design. The size and complexity of the design along with the profusion of window space marked Charters. Also Charters first used the subsequently classic three stage interior known as nave arcade, a series of arches in the central space of a church that extended from the west portal to the choir or chancel usually flanked by aisles; clerestory window levels, the topmost story of a nave wall, pierced by windows; and the triforium passage, an arched wall passage opening toward the nave, at the height of the sloping roof over the aisle vaulting and below the clerestory. The success of the Charters design lead some art historians to identify other cathedrals as part of the Charters linage Movement from this classic model in England resulted in cathedrals known for their length, not their height. Also, in England the basic French cruciform expanded so the eastern arm became complete cruciform structure itself. Additionally, in the English style of Gothic internal space often subdivided by such elements as screens, strainer arches, and organs creating an infinitely varied unique sequence of spatial sensations.


In Germany, until 15 and the construction of the Cathedral of Strasburg, only elements of the Gothic style appeared. Scholars suggested that a trip to Paris made by Bishop Albrecht and the Archbishop of Magdeburg inspired Strasburg. Strasburg also marked the introduction of foliage motifs in the external decoration for the cathedral.


Unlike England, the Italian peninsula did not show much interest in the 1th century structural and spatial efforts that led to the birth of Gothic architecture, perhaps because of their attachment to things Roman. However, Italy eventually built several impressive Gothic style cathedrals and evolved a unique Italian version of Gothic. The elaborate use of external decoration, including the introduction of painted fa├žades and the external use of sanctuary, marked this style. The Italian love for exterior decoration


reached its height at the Cathedral of Milan for its adornment contained , 45 statues.





The holding of Spain by the Ottoman Turks prevented the spread of Gothic design into present day Spain in the 1th century. The reconquest of Spain from the Muslims from 11 to 14 led to the building of numerous Gothic cathedrals as in other regions leading to the development of a unique style Spanish Gothic. Width distinguished the Spanish cathedrals from the French cathedrals, known for their height, and the English cathedrals, known for their length. In the first quarter of the thirteenth century, elements typical of Gothic architecture played an increasingly important role to Spanish architecture as expressed in the Cathedrals at Ciudad Rodrigo and Zamora. Later in the province of Catalonia a clear Spanish version of Gothic began to emerge. This style focused on the single nave design in which the arcade soared to so great a height that there is only enough room for a clerestory oculus, a round window opening.


Abbot Suger’s development of the Gothic cathedral proved important to the medieval world. As the basic elements of Gothic architecture spread across Europe, each region evolved its own unique style of this design. This flexibility demonstrated the strength of the basic gothic design elements, but most importantly this design synthesized the architectural elements into a unique form that well matched the religious sentiments of that religious era.








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