|Author:||Robert A. Scott|
Although much of European Civilization was united through one institutional church, and centralized monarchies were becoming more powerful, there were friction. The power of the Pope and his bishops and priests vied and jockeyed for influence over land and loyalties against secular figures like the office of the Holy Roman Emperor and the kings and barons of northern Europe.
The cathedral culture, creating sublime yet imposing structures helped hold together the sometimes fragile framework of sacred and secular powerbrokering. The completed structures were masterpieces of careful mathematical arrangement of size and shape. They attested to order, hierarchy and strict adherence to sacred text (at least as determined by the priests.)
But he does not overlook the amazing buldings as art in itself, including the statues and imagery within the abbeys and churches, the incredible craftsmanship and displays of stone saints and sometimes even pre-Christian pagan scientists included in the facades of these monuments to worship and authority.
Today the Gothic style symbolizes Medievalism in a way that is instantaneous to the most casual onlooker versed in Western history . The book covers how the "gothic enterprise" arouse out of the need for both bishops and kings to assert their power and prestige in these often immense structures.
Some of these cathedrals--like the original Gothic edifice, the Abbey of St. Denis in France---took only a few years to complete. Others, like those at Salisbury and Canterbury, took two or three centuries with many lengthy periods of inactivity owing to economic distress, bouts of plague and periods of warfare.
The author has a background in behavioral sciences so this is not a typical art book. Much of his focus is on Salisbury Cathedral, the church which inspired this book. Not much written material is available on how this and other incredible structures were built, but Scott draws on lists of skilled and unskilled workers (the latter mainly farmers working to supplement their meager incomes) to create an idea of what type of ordinary workers and masons it took to hew the lumber, erect the scaffolding, transport the quarry-ed stone, support the walls with buttresses and design the long naves of the central structures without collapses, etc.
The Cathedrals gave greater the church as well as royalty, but it also didn't hurt to to bring in money through crowds of pilgrims, brought there by festivals or displays of relics. This was a taste of early Euro-commercialism that helped out in the continuing cathedral building and locating economies closer to centralized areas in the French and English kingdoms.
(An overview of the French Gothic style in elaborate church facades and porches. The figures themselves even were sculpted in fine workmanship in the back, where no mortal viewer could see them--a testament to the faith the masons and other designers had for the all-discerning eye of God.)
The rapidly expanding commercial centers--where the great structures were the center of---developed along with the rise of skilled urban workers and guildsman in expanding towns places like Salisbury and Amiens and Worcester. To have a cathedral was to honor liturgical tradition and give adherantsa sense of the Sacred and the Divine. The building were as the book put it, "the way the Medieval culture imagined the heavenly kingdom itself, in opposition to older religions that sought divinity in nature.
Cathedral culture incorporated a time for worship in many forms throughout the year: Feast days, Saints Day's, sundry holy days and sacred anniversaries dedicated to martyrs. There were also special masses and much emphasis on grand structures for the choirs as well as spectacles like the Palm Sunday Processionals where a simple cross and the representation of Jesus (the Corpus Christi) would be marched about the grounds and the cloisters as a annual reinactment of The Passion.
The term Gothic in the architecture of abbeys and cathedrals was not used until the 15th Century, three centuries in to the movement. The transformation from the more sturdy-looking, strict arch-designed and bulky from of church architecture, Romanesque, the new form of church-building was known as "new work" or "novum opus".
The major innovation to a Gothic cathedral is the greater sense of inner space that is created by the ribbed vaulting that replaced the older archway design of the nave and other significant areas that provided off-shoot chapels within the main church. The style is more geometric and the emphasis more on emitting as much natural light as possible to bring in fusion of space and light. The exterior, with its flying buttresses and soaring towers is important, but the main aestethic feature is to create a space to bring the believer a sense of being amongst or near Divinity, or, giving Divinity a place to occupy in the realm of material earth.
(above Salisbury Cathedral, where the tallest spire in the UK stands--photo by Jesse K, P)
All in all an excellent book, distilling a great deal of research to give the general reader an appreciation of how a pre-industrial people came together and gave us monuments to both divinity and humanity