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In what ways do gothic cathedrals reflect Christian ideas and beliefs?
Gothic cathedrals are very complex structures, which have impressive amounts of beauty. The gothic cathedrals style is known for its many parts these include; Massive stained-glass windows as well as rose windows, pointed arches that which transfer weight and support the building, rib vaults and flying buttresses that strengthen, and support allowing taller building and give the building a stunning appearance. Detailed pieces on the outside that tell stories and last of all gargoyles and grotesques which helped stop water damage and just look damn right scary. By taking these parts I hope to convey that, gothic cathedrals convey a spiritual message with images and with imagery.
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Gothic cathedrals where first constructed in the middle of the 12th century, with this style continuing through to the 16th century. This era is known as the Middle ages or the Dark ages. The main style of cathedrals built before the gothic cathedrals were known as Romanesque. Romanesque cathedrals have very thick walls and small amounts of, and sized windows. Romanesque cathedrals were not as tall as gothic cathedrals. So, when gothic cathedrals came along, they outsized and outclassed Romanesque cathedrals.
Gothic cathedrals have many parts to them. One of the most recognizable is the rose window. Rose windows like the one from Notre Dame seen below, are huge circles of stained glass that depict several meanings and or stories. The images on these windows help convey the stories and messages that were normally written down, this is because at the time not everyone could read. The imagery of rose windows and stained-glass windows alike is when light hits the panes. When standing inside the cathedral and light hits the outside and coloured light pours over you and floods the whole cathedral. This light is meant to be blessed and in turn blesses you.
Notre Dame, Paris, South Rose Windows, Built 1260 CE
Figure 1: Sborisov, Stained glass window in Notre dame d. 2019, Digital image. Reproduced from CreativeMarket (sborisov 2019)
Figure 2: Author Unknown, The South rose window of Notre Dame Cathedral seen from the outside. Date Unknown, Digital image. Reproduced from Enthusiatical.Wordpress.com (Unknown Author Unknown Date)
Flying buttresses, rib vaults and pointed arches are all things signature and essential to gothic cathedrals. They are the things that keep these structures up so high and give , its gothic look. The reason these tactics where discovered and implemented is because, the Christian religion likes having tall buildings, even if the building its self is not tall it may be placed on a high hill. This is because of their belief in heaven and God that live up above. So, the images of these architecture implements are to have a tall building reach up to heaven, so now let’s look at the imagery. First of let’s look at pointed arches. Pointed arches are the starting point keeping these structures up. They get the weight off the walls and down to the ground. The imagery of pointed arches is that they are pointing up towards heaven, making you look up the building till you reach the top. Flying buttresses help the building stand tall like pointed arches, as they push the weight down and outwards. Flying buttresses imagery its self, is not in the structure but in what’s on the outside of the structure. Flying buttresses give lots of room for carvings that help convey the meaning of the church to people who cannot read. Rib vaults help by distributing out the weight from the roofs. Especially with the help of the pointed arch. The imagery of this is also like the pointed arch as they both point to heaven. Heaven is above, and you look above as you look over this amazing building and its architecture, making you closer to heaven.
St Vitus Cathedral, Prague, Finished 1929 CE
Figure 3: Patrick G, St Vitus Cathedral. 2010, Digital Image. Reproduced from Flickr (Patrick G 2010)
Figure 4: Navintar, St. vitus cathedral in prague. 2018, Digital Image. Reproduced from Freepik (navintar 2018)
Carving and gargoyles are often found on top of are around the outside of gothic cathedrals. Gargoyles purpose are to help get water away from the building and stop water damage happening over time. Their image though might be to look scary, but that is also their imagery. The idea is that the gargoyles scare away evil spirits and protect the cathedral.
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Carvings are everywhere on gothic cathedrals. Their image’s tell the stories of God for those that are illiterate. Their imagery depends on the carving itself. As each carving has a different story, then each carving has a different meaning. For example, the one bellow tells of the Kings of the Old Testament, they ruled with an iron fist and implemented different strategist to help their kingdom, including slavery. There are many carvings all around every cathedral and all convey different messages. Gargoyles help protect the gothic cathedrals from water and evil spirits, and both carvings and gargoyles add that little bit extra that is needed to give a gothic cathedral its extra flare.
Basilica Cathedral of Saint Denis, Paris, Built 1135 CE
Figure 5: Chuck LaChiusa, Gargoyles and monsters. 2005, Digital Image. Reproduced from Buffaloah.com (Chuck LaChiusa 2005)
Figure 6: Mary Ann Sullivan, Valois porch north transept. 2006, Digital Image. Reproduced from Bluffton.edu (Mary Ann Sullivan 2006)
Gothic cathedrals convey a spiritual message with images and with imagery.
So, to sum it up, stained glass windows and rose windows shower the inside of the gothic cathedrals with holy coloured light and at the same time rose windows tell stories of the church for those who cannot read. Flying buttresses, rib vaults and pointed arches are all essential to the gothic cathedrals in helping hold the elegant structures tall and to ensure your eyes glance upward towards heaven. Last of all Gargoyles and carvings. Gargoyles protect gothic cathedrals from water damage as well as evil spirits, they are the guard dogs of gothic cathedrals. Carving like the rose windows all tell different stories, and all tell different meanings, they are the bible in image form and are there to help those who cannot read.
- Figure 1: Sborisov, 2019. “Stained glass window in Notre dame d.” https://creativemarket.com/sborisov/3705798-Stained-glass-window-in-Notre-dame-d
- Figure 2: Unknown Author, Unknown Date. “The South rose window of Notre Dame Cathedral seen from the outside.” https://enthusiastical.wordpress.com/2013/05/03/southern-rose-window-notre-dame-paris/
- Figure 3: Patrick G, 2010 “St Vitus Cathedral.” https://www.flickr.com/photos/pagonzales/4903074630
- Figure 4: Navintar, 2018 “St. vitus cathedral in prague.” https://www.freepik.com/premium-photo/st-vitus-cathedral-prague-this-is-excellent-example-gothic-architecture_3173040.htm
- Figure 5: Chuck LaChiusa, 2005 “Gargoyles and monsters.” https://buffaloah.com/a/virtual/fr/stdenis/tc.html
- Figure 6: Mary Ann Sullivan, 2006 “Valois porch north transept.” https://www.bluffton.edu/homepages/facstaff/sullivanm/france/paris/stdenis/transeptext.html
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