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Cathedrals Of The 12th Century Essay

1108 words - 4 pages

For nearly four hundred years Gothic style dominated the architecture of Western Europe.It originated in northern France in the twelfth century, and spread rapidly across England and theContinent, invading the old Viking empire of Scandinavia. It confronted the Byzantine provincesof Central Europe and even made appearances in the near East and the Americas. Gothicarchitects designed town halls, royal palaces, courthouses, and hospitals. They fortified cities andcastles to defend lands against invasion. But it was in the service of the church, the most prolificbuilder of the Middle Ages, that the Gothic style got its most meaningful expression, providing thewidest scope for the development of architectural ideas.1Although by 1400 Gothic had become the universal style of building in the Western world,its creative heartland was in northern France in an area stretching from the royal domain aroundParis, including Saint-Denis and Chartres, to the region of the Champagne in the east andsouthward to Bourges. Within this restricted area, in the series of cathedrals built in the course ofthe 12th and 13th centuries, the major innovations of Gothic architecture took place.2The supernatural character of medieval religious architecture was given a special form inthe Gothic church. 'Medieval man considered himself but an imperfect refraction of Divine Lightof God, Whose Temple stood on earth, according to the text of the dedication ritual, stood for theHeavenly City of Jerusalem.'3 The Gothic interpretation of this point of view was a cathedral sogrand that seems to belittle the man who enters it, for space, light, structure and the plastic effectsof the stonework are made to produce a visionary scale. The result of the Gothic style isdistortion as there is no fixed set of proportions in the parts. Such architecture did not onlyexpress the physical and spiritual needs of the Church, but also the general attitude of the peopleof that time. Gothic was not dark, massive, and contained like the older Romanesque style, butlight, open, and aerial, and its appearance in all parts of Europe had an enduring effect on theoutlook of succeeding generations.4Gothic architecture evolved at a time of profound social and economic change in WesternEurope. In the late eleventh and twelfth centuries trade and industry were revived, particularly innorthern Italy and Flanders, and a lively commerce brought about better communications, not onlybetween neighboring towns but also between far-distant regions. Politically, the twelfth centurywas also the time of the expansion and consolidation of the State. Along with political andeconomic developments, a powerful new intellectual movement arose that was stimulated by thetranslation of ancient authors from Greek and Arabic into Latin, and a new literature came intobeing. Gothic architecture both contributed to these changes and was affected by them.5The Gothic style was essentially urban. The cathedrals of course were all situated...

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