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Gothic architecture for beginners

jungleboy

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With the permission of @C clearly, I am starting the Gothic architecture for beginners thread, the third in a series that also includes Romanesque and Visigothic/Pre-Romanesque architecture. This is a ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ post, where you can just read the basics or go deeper behind the spoilers if you desire.

Gothic is the architectural style that succeeds Romanesque in medieval Europe, beginning in the 1140s with the first Gothic cathedral, Saint-Denis (just outside Paris), and spreading to other places on the continent.

These notes come from the Age of Cathedrals course offered on Coursera.
  • Gothic cathedrals, unlike Romanesque, are an urban phenomenon.
  • Gothic was an international style, but was prominent in France, and especially in the Ile-de-France around Paris.
  • About 80 Gothic cathedrals and almost 500 abbeys were built between 1180 and 1279, taking as little as 17 years and as much as more than 300 years.
  • On average it took 250-300 years to build a Gothic cathedral.

Some basic visual elements of Gothic churches include large interior spaces owing to high walls and ceilings, stained-glass windows that let in natural light, pointed arches and exterior flying buttresses to support the weight of the ceiling.

These notes come from the Age of Cathedrals course offered on Coursera.
  • A Gothic cathedral is in the shape of a cross and consists of these elements:
  • Crypt (typically the oldest part), from the Greek kryptein (to hide), and used for burial and housing relics
  • Apse
  • Choir, between the altar and the apse on the shortest part of the vertical section of the cross
  • Nave (from the Latin Navus, meaning boat), on the other side of the altar from the choir, where the parishioners worship (whereas the clergy would be in the choir on the other side of a screen).

These elements were made possible by advances in architectural techniques, which meant that Gothic churches were quite different from the Romanesque churches that preceded them.

These notes come from the Age of Cathedrals course offered on Coursera.
  • In some Gothic churches (e.g. Notre Dame), thick columns on either side of the nave reinforce the ceiling vaults.
  • In other churches, compound or composite piers (column shafts) are used instead.
  • Ribbed vaults transfer the weight of the ceiling to precise points along distinct lines, replacing the barrel vaults of Romanesque.
  • Pointed arches are 25-30 per cent stronger than Romanesque rounded arches.
  • Flying buttresses gave external support for high walls.
  • Gothic building is about vectors and forces (Romanesque was mass and weight).
  • Gothic walls contain forces opposed to each other which counter each other.
  • The bay pattern of construction also helped the churches become bigger and taller.
  • The churches were built without measuring tools but instead by using ratios and proportions.

This is a short essay that I wrote for an Age of Cathedrals assignment:

Discuss three characteristics that distinguish Gothic from Romanesque churches.

Gothic churches are distinguished from their Romanesque predecessors in a number of ways owing to advances in architectural techniques that made more advanced buildings possible. Three of these differences are space, light and geometric forms.

Firstly, Gothic churches were larger than Romanesque churches, allowing them to hold more worshippers and project their towers and spires higher towards heaven. This difference in size is attributed to innovations such as flying buttresses, ribbed vaulting and compound piers that allowed Gothic church constructors to support higher walls and, as a result, larger churches.

Secondly, Gothic churches let in significantly more light than Romanesque ones. In Romanesque churches, thick walls with few windows were required to support the weight of the tunnel vault. In Gothic churches, by contrast, the additional support mechanisms allowed stained-glass windows to be crafted into the thinner, higher walls. These windows let in natural light and illuminated the church interior.

Finally, the round shapes of the Romanesque - seen in arches and vaults - were replaced by the pointed geometric forms of Gothic architecture, specifically pointed arches and ribbed vaults. These features had a practical function, as pointed arches were stronger than rounded arches and ribbed vaults helped distribute the weight of the ceiling, but they also became part of the Gothic visual aesthetic.

On the Camino de Santiago, two of the most famous Gothic churches are the cathedrals of Burgos (started 1221) and León (built mostly from 1205-1301, completed in 1472). In these two photos, you can see many typical Gothic features, including high towers, pointed arches, windows for light, sculptural tracery around the windows and flying buttresses (between the towers of the León cathedral).

Burgos Cathedral

35798444355_318b859039_c.jpg

León Cathedral


35409551750_2de1508d94_c.jpg

What are your favourite examples of Gothic architecture? Which features of Gothic architecture stand out for you? Do you prefer Gothic or Romanesque?

Feel free to discuss these questions and anything else about Gothic architecture, including recommended resources, in this thread!
 
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Do you prefer Gothic or Romanesque?
I used to be an incredible Gothic snob, but now I prefer the simplicity of the Romanesque — or even better, the Pre-Romanesque.
What are your favourite examples of Gothic architecture?
On the Frances, I vastly prefer the cathedral in Leon to the one in Burgos. The amazing stained glass windows, and the light they offer, are incredible.
Burgos seems to be Gothic on steroids — everything seems overdone to me.
Edit: I a little digging and discovered there is actually a word for this— "Flamboyant Gothic." Exactly. From Wikipedia:
This late Spanish Gothic style includes a mixture of French-inspired Flamboyant tracery and vaulting features, Flemish features such as fringed arches, and elements that may have been borrowed from Islamic architecture, such as the crossed rib vaults and pierced openwork tracery of Burgos Cathedral.

But...I have to admit the amazing vaulting at the crossing of the nave and the apse is pretty amazing
Which features of Gothic architecture stand out for you?
Pointed arches and elaborate vaulting.
Beautiful flying buttresses.
High ceilings and light-filled spaces.
Stained glass — lots of it. Elaborate tracery over the windows.
 
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Although NEO-Gothic (gothic revival) my absolute favourite is the Budapest Parliament. Every time I stand before it either close by or across the Danube I feel the weight of history flood my body.
 

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McSherry

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I am starting the Gothic architecture for beginners thread.
Being an architectural history wonk and an architect, the architecture of the Camino was such a treat. I remember walking into the Leon Cathedral and just having to sit and stare, something unusual for me. The delight of this cathedral is that it was built in a relatively short time, it is relatively pure example of the gothic form. It was like Disneyland for the architect.

Leon is great because it is so easy to compare the Romanesque and Gothic styles with the Romanesque basilica being so close the gothic cathedral.

One thing to keep in mind is that since most of these structures took so long to build, the styles were changing while construction was ongoing, so some churches will have elements of different styles. The Leon cathedral, being built in a shorter time is more of a pure expression of that moment. Many of the churches in the Camino show elements of many different styles as they were renovated over the centuries.

Monday thing I enjoyed was watching for the masons’ marks from those who actually shaped the stones. With much of the plaster gone in these buildings, the marks are in plain view. You can visualize that worker from 700 years ago carving that finishing mark to be sure he got paid!
 

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peregrina2000

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Burgos seems to be Gothic on steroids — everything seems overdone to me.
That has always been my reaction, too. The two pictures @jungleboy posted highlight the differences between the two very well. And the differences extend to the interiors too — I remember feeling overwhelmed and almost bombarded walking through the Burgos cathedral, while the León cathedral just invites you to sit and gape at the light pouring through those incredible windows. The most beautiful stained glass windows I have ever seen.

The sense of light and soaring that you feel inside gothic cathedrals is pretty breathtaking. Those high pointed arches really lift you up, I find. It’s hard to throw yourself into it when there are hoards of tour groups, but being inside a gothic cathedral in silence is good for the soul.

So I wonder if these differences in my response reflect differences that the actual congregants felt back in the day. Or whether it’s simply the progression of engineering expertise. In other words, did medieval church goers feel the somber solemnity and humanity that hits me when I go into a Romanesque church? And a century or two later, did the renaissance church goers feel exhilarated and elevated?
 
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jungleboy

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I used to be an incredible Gothic snob, but now I prefer the simplicity of the Romanesque — or even better, the Pre-Romanesque.
Since you seem to be going backwards, stone age huts will be your new fave in no time! 🤣

I also prefer Romanesque, personally. Though the Age of Cathedrals course does a pretty convincing job at saying how much better Gothic is!
 

Farmer Col

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Thanks for this post. I find these buildings fascinating as well as beautiful. When you think about the tools and technology that existed in these times it just highlights how talented and dedicated these people were. Given the time taken to build them, maybe Australia will have some showpieces in a hundred years time.
 
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Jungleboy, thank you for this post. It is all new to me and I'm learning so much from reading and seeing your pictures. It is a whole new world for me and I do enjoy learning about the different architectural styles.
 

jungleboy

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When you think about the tools and technology that existed in these times it just highlights how talented and dedicated these people were.
One of the things that has come up in the Age of Cathedrals course was that Gothic cathedral builders did not have measuring devices (i.e. rulers). Everything was measured using ratios and proportions, which is pretty mind-blowing.
 
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McSherry

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One of the things that has come up in the Age of Cathedrals course was that Gothic cathedral builders did not have measuring devices (i.e. rulers). Everything was measured using ratios and proportions, which is pretty mind-blowing.
In the construction there was a lot of trial and error. Structural engineering was limited to experience and rules of thumb. We see those that survived and where they guessed right. There were collapses. You can imagine having the work collapse (hoping there was enough warning for the workers to evacuate) after so much effort was put into it. Starting over with what is left and trying something a bit different next time.

Some of these structures do have long term structural issues.
 

Mycroft

Active Member
There is an interesting program on American public television based on Maria Rosa Menocal's book called "Ornament of the World." It talks about the history of Christians, Muslims and Jews in Spain, and discusses architecture and churches, mosques, and temples. Very enjoyable and educational.
 
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Since you seem to be going backwards, stone age huts will be your new fave in no time!
Hahaha! 😄

And....Hmmm. Now there's a thought.
🤔
I already like such things, a lot — and have a stack of bookmarked links about rock stuff. Menhirs and dolmens, followed by Paleolithic cave art, anyone? I'm game after these architecture threads have run their course.
 
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Jodean

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I always look for stonemason marks in churches and though we have them in the German churches that I visit all the time, the abundance of them in the Spanish and Portuguese churches was astounding. They were everywhere!
Though Gothic is beautiful, Romanesque pulls me in and attracts me more. Maybe because it is older, rarer, and I prefer the rounder lines of it?
 

Raggy

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So I wonder if these differences in my response reflect differences that the actual congregants felt back in the day. Or whether it’s simply the progression of engineering expertise. In other words, did medieval church goers feel the somber solemnity and humanity that hits me when I go into a Romanesque church? And a century or two later, did the renaissance church goers feel exhilarated and elevated?
Great question ...

My guess is that medieval church goers were filled with awe by the churches that we consider austere and solemn today. Both because of how those churches compared with the buildings that those people experienced in daily life, and because the churches would have been gaudier than the simple interiors with faded murals and absent silver and gold that we see today

As for visitors to the huge gothic cathedrals ... I think they would have been wowed by the sheer height and length of the buildings, the vastness of the interior spaces, the splendor of the light, which is above and beyond anything that existed right up until the age of skyscrapers. Frankly, I'm wowed today.
 
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Choir, between the altar and the apse on the shortest part of the vertical section of the cross
As I remember though both the Burgos and León cathedrals had large choirs in the nave on the opposite side of the transept from the apse. I believe that the one in León at least was a later addition. I didn't like it. From the rear it blocked too much of the church. It's like building a shed in the middle of your living room.

What style is the Pamplona cathedral?
 

Rowena

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The cathedral in Pamplona is 14th to 15th century Gothic with a Neoclassical facade addled later. An earlier Romanesque church existed prior to that.

Are there any other outstanding Gothic Churches along the Camino Frances?

I am following all the architectural threads with great interest! Thank you to everyone who has posted.
 

jungleboy

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Are there any other outstanding Gothic Churches along the Camino Frances?
A couple that come to mind:

The Church of Nuestra Señora del Manzano at the entrance to Castrojeriz. Gothic features visible in the photo include the pointed arch in the portal and the tracery around the rose window, although interestingly the other two windows on the façade are rounded.

35409562120_f687b676c0_c.jpg

Secondly, if it counts given that it's in ruins, the San Antón Monastery. Pointed arches and window tracery can be seen in this shot and the ruined state of the structure seems to amplify its height as you look through the windows to the sky.

35798440835_7be4f513c0_c.jpg
 

jungleboy

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As I remember though both the Burgos and León cathedrals had large choirs in the nave on the opposite side of the transept from the apse. I believe that the one in León at least was a later addition. I didn't like it. From the rear it blocked too much of the church. It's like building a shed in the middle of your living room.
I don't remember enough detail about the interior of either of those two churches to say, but this is the standard Gothic church plan (edit: standard French Gothic church plan) presented in Age of Cathedrals (screenshot, credit to Yale University):

Screen Shot 2020-12-13 at 8.46.14 PM.png
 
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Rowena

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Brierley’s guide is proving useful, once I remember where I was when I saw an impressive church.
The cathedral in Logroño is Gothic also, and apparently the cathedral in Santo Domingo de la Calzada demonstrates the transition from Romanesque to Gothic.
 
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Kathar1na

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As I remember though both the Burgos and León cathedrals had large choirs in the nave on the opposite side of the transept from the apse. I believe that the one in León at least was a later addition. I didn't like it.
I am not sure whether what you remember is what I remember. I remember a dark heavy choir screen in Leon. I wasn't keen on it as an architectural element. I don't know too much about this. I think it became fashionable in the late Middle Ages. It serves as a separator or even a barrier between the ordinary people and the clerics because the space behind it was reserved for liturgical acts and for the clergy. In later centuries it was often removed altogether so we don't see it anymore today. English names are rood screen, choir screen, chancel screen. Although usually I guess it was closer to the main altar ... there are so many variations. Here's a floor plan for Leon (Coro is the choir space).

Leon.jpg
 

Kathar1na

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floor plans for the cathedrals in León and Burgos that show their choirs back in the nave
I don't know much about it but according to one Wikipedia article (not available in English) this is something that is typical for large Spanish churches during Late Gothic and Renaissance: coro and trascoro. The explanation that goes with it sounds quite interesting - it's new to me - but I don't have a link for it for English. But at least I now know why I found the arrangement in Leon so odd ☺️.

I think you are right, Burgos is the same but then that is so huge you barely know in which parts of the building you are.
 
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Very interesting and highly educational. Reading with much attention: Thank you for these threads, @jungleboy !
 

Kathar1na

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This 1911 book has floor plans for the cathedrals in León and Burgos that show their choirs back in the nave: The Project Gutenberg eBook, Cathedrals of Spain, by John A. (John Allyne) Gade
Hey, that's a good little book, thanks! I never noticed this before: that their floor plans are so rectangular. Burgos - which I love - is so massive that you are excused when you don't notice it. I know that Burgos is Gothic, there's plenty of Gothic inside and outside but it also felt "different" in some aspects/parts. I'm going to look a bit closer into the characteristics of the Spanish style.

BTW, I don't associate Burgos with flamboyant at all, even when the books may say so (it was mentioned earlier in this thread). Good thread.
 
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Thank you @Kathar1na. Chrome did a reasonable job translating. So, again I remembered correctly that the choir was a later construction. The article mentioned that the southern cathedrals had short apses because the used mosques as the base for the building. It did not mention what I spectulate, that the northern churches had short apses and possibly no transepts because they were built on the foundations of romanesque churches. Someone correct me if I'm wrong. Were the more northerly European churches mainly new constructions?

I mentioned how I thought these choirs in the naves were like a shed a living room but the Wikipedia article (Chrome translation) was kinder. "Even if they may sometimes seem like a foreign body to the faithful and visitors of a Spanish cathedral, Coro and Trascoro form a kind of jewel box inside a cathedral and are usually extraordinarily rich."
 
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I mentioned how I thought these choirs in the naves were like a shed a living room but the Wikipedia article (Chrome translation) was kinder. "Even if they may sometimes seem like a foreign body to the faithful and visitors of a Spanish cathedral, Coro and Trascoro form a kind of jewel box inside a cathedral and are usually extraordinarily rich."
That was my that was my initial impression, too, but it's only because I was fixated on the light from the windows. Once I started looking at the carving the choir screen was equally amazing.
BTW, I don't associate Burgos with flamboyant at all, even when the books may say so.
Proof that perception is subjective.
To me it looks like a wedding cake.🙃
 

Kathar1na

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this is the standard Gothic church plan

View attachment 89155
Except, as we now know ☺️, their floorplan doesn't look quite like this in Spain, at least not along the Camino Frances. The Gothic churches that I remember and/or that have been named in the thread are the major churches in Roncesvalles, Pamplona, Santo Domingo de la Calzada, Burgos and Leon. Here are their floorplans - even when you discard the square cloister to the right or to the left and other external additions, they tend to look wider and without "arms".

Roncesvalles - Pamplona - Santo Domingo - Burgos - Leon
Roncesvalles.jpg Pamlona.jpg Santo Domingo de la Calzada.jpg Burgos_Catedral_Planta.png Leon.jpg
 

henrythedog

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Before I retired I was the MD of a fairly large company in the UK which included an ‘architectural stone’ business, within which were several quarries and many machines and an annually diminishing number of real live stonemasons.

The clients of that business were in equal part long standing craftsmen working on historic buildings and architects working on new ones. The first were primarily concerned with structure and the latter, decor.

The first understood how stone ‘worked’ and that it could look beautiful whilst serving a real purpose. That was the Gothic, in my humble opinion.

The latter designed structure with steel and considered stone to be no more than a decorative skin to be fixed outside. Disrespectful to the material, in my opinion.

I can hardly stack one rock on top of another, so my admiration for whoever first conceived the flying buttress is massive.
 
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I can hardly stack one rock on top of another, so my admiration for whoever first conceived the flying buttress is massive.
They are incredible in their own right to be sure. Here's a question that I suppose I could look up the answer to, but someone of you out there might know it off the top of your head: was there a gradual transition between the buttressing in Romanesque cathedrals to the Elegant lightness of the flying buttresses in High Gothic, or did the change happen abruptly?

IOW, was this kind of thing a later addition, or a transition...
20190616_135956 (2).jpg
To this?:
Leon (63).JPG

(The 1st photo is the Colexiata de Sar in Santiago, the 2nd is the Leon Cathedral.)
 

jungleboy

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They are incredible in their own right to be sure. Here's a question that I suppose I could look up the answer to, but someone of you out there might know it off the top of your head: was there a gradual transition between the buttressing in Romanesque cathedrals to the Elegant lightness of the flying buttresses in High Gothic, or did the change happen abruptly?

IOW, was this kind of thing a later addition, or a transition...
View attachment 89188
To this?:
View attachment 89187

(The 1st photo is the Colexiata de Sar in Santiago, the 2nd is the Leon Cathedral.)
The Colexiata de Sar is a special case as these buttresses were added in the 18th century to stabilise the building.

Per Age of Cathedrals, Notre-Dame (begun 1163) was the first church to have flying buttresses, shortly after the Gothic age began at Saint-Denis.
 
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Kathar1na

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flying buttresses
As far as Gothic beauty is concerned, my heart is definitely in the north of France. I've been trying to find models of the large Gothic churches on the Camino Frances to compare them with such prime examples as Chartres, Reims, and Paris but it takes time. Again there is a notable difference and I don't have suitable links in English at hand. So a machine translation from this Wikipedia article will have to do:

The "open flying buttress work", with buttress arches stretched freely over the side aisles, was gradually developed and shaped in Gothic architecture. This feature, with visible buttress arches above the roof surface, developed from 1160 onwards, first in ambulatory choirs in Normandy and the Ile-de-France. It was then used for the nave of the cathedral in Paris and in Noyon and Laon and spread to England and Germany but was rarely adopted in southern France and the Mediterranean countries.​

This is getting a bit technical and @jungleboy said at the beginning that much of the "course material" refers to French examples. However, I think it is interesting to be aware of such differences between what you actually see on a camino in Spain and what you've learned in general about the Gothic style. I had not been consciously aware of it but I think that I often felt that there was something missing. You see of course flying buttresses at the east end of Leon cathedral and here and there on Burgos cathedral but it is not the same as this amazing filigree work on the lateral sides of other buildings further north. I'll try perhaps to find some illustration to clarify what I mean.
 
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Kathar1na

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I think it is interesting to be aware of such differences between what you actually see on a camino in Spain and what you've learned in general about the Gothic style
I am not that much of an expert of course but another difference that strikes me now, while looking at the floor maps, it the fact that all these examples of large Gothic churches from the Camino Frances have a cloister right next to the church building.

I don't recall that at all from the north of France. I remember that I was slightly disoriented when I moved out of the building of Burgos Cathedral itself during my first visit and found myself in the cloister. Why this difference (if it actually is a notable difference and not just random coincidence), does anyone know?
 
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Kathar1na

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Brierley’s guide is proving useful, once I remember where I was when I saw an impressive church.
You make a good point, a guidebook is useful if one has an interest in Gothic architecture, even if only a passing interest. I didn't remember the Brierley guide as particularly useful in this respect so I checked it for the five major Gothic churches on the Camino Frances. Well, I'd say Brierley's comments are rather terse in this respect. But he does give them a mention, usually hidden somewhere in the final blurb at the end of a "stage" (which I never bother to read and I may not be the only one with this habit) and occasionally he even goes as far as to say: "Do visit if you have time". 😄
 
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I had not been consciously aware of it but I think that I often felt that there was something missing. You see of course flying buttresses at the east end of Leon cathedral and here and there on Burgos cathedral but it is not the same as this amazing filigree work on the lateral sides of other buildings further north.
Wow. Me neither.
And I see what you mean:
Screenshot_20201214-182028_Firefox.jpg
Screenshot_20201214-182101_Firefox.jpg
These are screenshots from https://www.richesses-en-somme.com/cathédrale-insolite-extérieur/sur-les-toits-de-la-cathédrale/

Here's a photo from another source, but there's no indication of what cathedral it's from.
Screenshot_20201214-182921_Google.jpg

Here is Reims:
Screenshot_20201214-183400_Firefox.jpg
 
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Kathar1na

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Wow.I see what you mean:
Yes, exactly, thanks. It's not meant as a criticism, just pointing out what you can actually see along the CF. Here are the Google Earth models of the Gothic cathedrals of Paris, Leon and Burgos. Leon is said to have a style that is the closest to the French Gothic style in the north of France, and you can see it in their use of buttresses, too. But especially when you view it at street level, or from a tower if you can, they just don't have the same impact as the examples in your post just above this one would have.

(Click to enlarge - in reality not same scale!)
Comparison flying buttresses.jpg
 
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another difference that strikes me now, while looking at the floor maps, it the fact that all these examples of large Gothic churches from the Camino Frances have a cloister right next to the church building.
This didn't strike me as odd, because that's not uncommon in English cathedrals: Canterbury, Salisbury, Worcester, Lincoln, Norwich, and of course Westminster Abbey.

Edit - I realize that didn't answer your question. Cloisters mean there would have been an attached monastic community. Perhaps that was more common in Spain and England, then in the North of the continent? I don't know, though — I'm just guessing.

Your side-by-side photos are very clear! GE can do some impressive things.
 
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Raggy

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I can hardly stack one rock on top of another, so my admiration for whoever first conceived the flying buttress is massive.
Hmm. I've got a feeling that the first one was rigged up by some cowboy builders whose wall was falling over.

Bishop: What on earth is that?
Elric the master mason: What's that, your excellency?
Bishop: The grotesque thing sticking out from the wall.
Elric: The waterspout, your excellency? We made it in the image of Wybert's wife. Truly hideous, isn't it? We got a good likeness, wouldn't you say, Wybert?
Wybert his half witted apprentice: Oh yeah. That's her nose, alright.
Bishop: Not the waterspout, you fools. This thing that looks like an arm, reaching over the sacristy and holding the wall up.
Elric: Oh. Yes. Um. This thing. Yes. Well, you see ....
Wybert: The wall was wonky so we had to buttress ...
Elric: .Ahem... err.... a *flying* buttress, your excellency. A *flying* buttress is what we call that. Flying, as in positively soaring ... to majestic heights ... for the greater glory of ...
Bishop: I don't recall seeing it in the plans?
Wybert: We added it in when the wall started ...
Elric: A late addition to the plans, your excellency, in accordance with the very latest architectural trends in Italy.
Bishop: Italy, you say? Perhaps I should ask Fr. Angelo about this.
Elric: Or possibly Constantinople. I never had a knack for geography, your excellency... The marvelous thing about these flying buttresses is that we can build higher and higher, your excellency.
Bishop: How intriguing. So how much taller will you be able to make the spire ...

... and thus was gothic born.
 
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Raggy

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It has been mentioned many times that the dividing lines between architectural periods (and between the sub-categories in those periods) are blurred. That should be no surprise when we consider that many of the large cathedrals that we admire have seen construction taking place on and off over many centuries. I think that this is very well illustrated by the two Cathedrals which sit side-by-side in Salamanca:

The old cathedral combines Romanesque and early Gothic elements

The new cathedral takes us on a journey from late-Gothic into Baroque
 

Rowena

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You make a good point, a guidebook is useful if one has an interest in Gothic architecture, even if only a passing interest. I didn't remember the Brierley guide as particularly useful in this respect so I checked it for the five major Gothic churches on the Camino Frances. Well, I'd say Brierley's comments are rather terse in this respect. But he does give them a mention, usually hidden somewhere in the final blurb at the end of a "stage" (which I never bother to read and I may not be the only one with this habit) and occasionally he even goes as far as to say: "Do visit if you have time". 😄
No, I wouldn’t be using Brierley as a guide to architecture, but he is pretty consistent about identifying the century of construction for the major churches along the way, and sometimes mentions the architectural style. When I started reading this thread, a quick look at the old guidebook helped me find the Gothic churches.
 

Kathar1na

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No, I wouldn’t be using Brierley as a guide to architecture, but he is pretty consistent about identifying the century of construction for the major churches along the way, and sometimes mentions the architectural style.
There are things that I appreciate about his guidebooks, for example the sketched maps that show important information very clearly. This includes buildings such as churches and cathedrals and separate maps for medium sized and larger towns. I often use them to find my way around town..
 
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Kathar1na

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This didn't strike me as odd, because that's not uncommon in English cathedrals: Canterbury, Salisbury, Worcester, Lincoln, Norwich, and of course Westminster Abbey.

Edit - I realize that didn't answer your question. Cloisters mean there would have been an attached monastic community. Perhaps that was more common in Spain and England, then in the North of the continent? I don't know, though — I'm just guessing.
I often wonder how people lived in the Middle Ages, what their world was like. I always imagined that cloisters were there for monks to walk slowly around in prayer and meditation and contemplate things 😁. A bit of naive thinking, as I know by now.

Cloisters had apparently both functional purposes and spiritual meaning. When they are attached to a cathedral, as seen in Spain and in England as you pointed out, they served the canons, i.e. bishop and numerous other clerics of the cathedral who lived in a nearby clergy house or, later, in houses within the precinct of the cathedral, or close to it, conducting their lives according to the customary discipline or rules of the church. So the presence of a cloister doesn’t necessarily mean that they were attached to a monestary.

What I liked about the course on the Age of the Cathedrals was the fact that it did not only address characteristics of Gothic architecture and building history of the great cathedrals in France but put them in the context of their time and society and the changes that took place then.
 
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Kathar1na

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@David Tallan, you asked a question which I can’t find anymore. But I found an answer I think ☺️.

The location of the so-called choir space found in some Romanesque churches and in nearly all large Gothic churches is explained in this Spanish Wikipedia article about their coro. It addresses the differences of the location of the choir space between Italy, France and Spain and the great influence that the Romanesque cathedral of Santiago had in this respect on subsequent cathedral architecture in Spain.

I often check a Wikipedia article in several languages because the various writers are usually caught in their own knowledge sphere, without realising it, and lack a broad overview. Needless to say, there are also glaring mistakes in Wikipedia articles but that is a different topic.
 
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Kathar1na

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Another characteristic feature of major Gothic churches that you will find in some Romanesque churches, too, but that disappeared after the Middle Ages, is indicated in the drawing shown below. Any peregrino or peregrina worth their salt with an interest in Gothic architecture ought to know about at least one of its functions. It's called girola in ES, déambulatoire in FR and somewhat misleadingly, as we now know, Chorumgang in DE. What is it for? ;)

Pamplona.jpg
 
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Rowena

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I believe the ambulatory is for directing the movement of pilgrims who want to visit the relics of saints, so that they don’t interrupt the regular services held in the church.
 
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The Sagrada Familia also has an ambulatory. This article describes how Gaudí used the ambulatory to work out the design of the church.

 
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Kathar1na

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I believe the ambulatory is for directing the movement of pilgrims who want to visit the relics of saints, so that they don’t interrupt the regular services held in the church.
Yes. BTW, when I visit a medieval cathedral I usually start on the right and then walk anti-clockwise through the ambulatory. I wonder whether there used to be a rule about the direction in earlier days.

I know that pilgrims (sometimes? often?) entered the transept (the "short arm" of the cross-like church building) through a north portal, then walked through the ambulatory and left through a south portal at the opposite side of the transept. This seems to have been the case in Santiago, too, where pilgrims are reported to have entered through a "Portal of France" on the north side. This portal was demolished in the 18th century, a "victim of the major re-dressing operation, from which the monument has emerged doted with a Baroque travesty", as one writer puts it. Our idea of the tired pilgrim arriving at the Porta de la Gloria and putting his or her hand on the pillar with the "hand imprint" (which is no longer possible today) may reflect traditions that are not as old as we like to believe.

In the imagination of the Romanesque world (and probably Gothic, too), the north side stood for the coldness, the darkness, for original sin, and the south side stood for salvation and paradise; it is sometimes reflected in the sculptures above the portals. So it made sense, I guess, to make pilgrims proceed from north to south. Gothic churches are usually oriented towards the east, ie their long axis is in an east/west line where the most important area with the main altar is in the east.

Ambulatory.jpg
 
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This article describes how Gaudí used the ambulatory to work out the design of the churc
Fascinating. One thing I am learning in this discussion that I didn't know before was the importance of ratios to the masons who built these cathedrals.
Gaudi I was following a long tradition.
I wonder whether there used to be a rule about the direction in earlier days.
I can't speak for Catholicism, but I think it's an interesting coincidence that when one circumambulates a Buddhist stupa or Pagoda, it's always done in a clockwise direction. Because they are round, there is no obvious East-West orientation, although there are often four entries, one at each cardinal direction. Where one enters in that situation is more a matter of convenience than anything else.
a "victim of the major re-dressing operation, from which the monument has emerged doted with a Baroque travesty",
Bravo to whoever said that!
Sometimes I wonder if there were people in Santiago then who were saddened to be watching that happen. Did everybody think the Baroque additions were better, or were there people walking around shaking their heads in dismay?
 
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In the imagination of the Romanesque world (and probably Gothic, too), the north side stood for the coldness, the darkness, for original sin, and the south side stood for salvation and paradise; it is sometimes reflected in the sculptures above the portals. So it made sense, I guess, to make pilgrims proceed from north to south. Gothic churches are usually oriented towards the east, ie their long axis is in an east/west line where the most important area with the main altar is in the east.
Thank you for that @Kathar1na. This is off the subject for gothic architecture but since I previously mentioned Sagrada Familia I'll add here that it is aligned to the grid of the streets with the apse at about 10 on the clock where north is 12. The stained glass on the east of the nave is in predominantly cool colors like blue and green while the west side is done in the warmer colors. Think sunrise and sunset.
 

Kathar1na

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This is off the subject for gothic architecture but since I previously mentioned Sagrada Familia I'll add here that it is aligned to the grid of the streets with the apse at about 10 on the clock where north is 12. The stained glass on the east of the nave is in predominantly cool colors like blue and green while the west side is done in the warmer colors. Think sunrise and sunset.
Thanks for that. I visited the Sagrada Familia quite a few years ago. I knew nothing about it beforehand and was totally bowled over. I think I may have to visit it again and see it with new eyes as I have learnt quite a bit about cathedral building and the meaning of many elements and features since then.

I see that someone called it the most extraordinary personal interpretation of Gothic architecture since the Middle Ages, and so I think it is not terribly off topic, btw. And it will be finished in 2026, or a little later, apparently!
 
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peregrina2000

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I finally found a picture I had long remembered, which almost looks like I have elongated it. Talk about soaring — it’s one of my strongest memories of gothic architecture. I was transfixed. This is at the Batalha monastery in Portugal, not on any camino that I know but well worth a visit. There’s also a picture of the Chapter House, which I already mentioned on another thread, but oh well — the roof had collapsed several times, killing workers (who were prisoners, I learned), but on the final rebuilding, the architect/engineer/guy in charge agreed to sleep in it over night to prove that it was safe.

I remember thinking oh yuck when I first saw the outside, but then went in and had one of those moments!



B3668F28-8BBC-4AFE-B082-8A064C8956F0.jpeg 08B82E2C-674C-4FCF-95CC-9AE01D6A87A0.jpeg

EF32774D-6BB0-445F-8B17-50E10C17D561.jpeg
 
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jungleboy

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The reference to Batalha above allows me to pivot to Portugal and introduce a specific form of (late) Gothic architecture to this thread: Manueline, named for King Manuel whose 1495-1521 rule coincided with the most important years of the Age of Discovery. Manueline architecture is noteworthy for its use of nautical motifs such as anchors, ropes and armillary spheres in its decoration.

As far as I can tell, there is only one Manueline building left in Lisbon proper: the church of Our Lady of the Conception near the Terreiro do Paço (Praça do Comércio). This is the transcript of what I used to say there on my tours for anyone interested:

This is the old church of our lady of the conception, and it’s remarkable for two reasons: firstly, that the façade pre-dates the 1755 earthquake, having been built int he late 15th / early 16th century, and that it survived the earthquake, even while basically everything else in this area got destroyed. The inside has been completely rebuilt, but the façade is original. And secondly, that this is a unique form of architecture and this church is the only example of it in Lisbon proper, in the centre of Lisbon.

The architectural style is Portuguese late gothic and is called Manueline, named after King Manuel who commissioned many buildings in this style, including his own Riverside Palace and the All Saints hospital in the Rossio, both of which were destroyed by the fire on the day of the earthquake. The most famous example of Manueline architecture that exists today is the Jerónimos monastery, which we’ll see later in the tour in Belém. Overall, there are only about 15 buildings left in all of Portugal that feature even traces of this style of architecture, so it’s quite rare and unique. To be honest, what you’re looking at now is kind of a poor man’s version compared with what you’ll see if you go to Belém, but as I said, it’s the only Manueline building in central Lisbon, so we’ll take whatever we can get.

Manueline architecture is specifically and symbolically tied to the Portuguese Age of Discovery, and it’s hard to think of another form of architecture that is so connected with a particular time and a place. So, what are the features of this style of architecture and what makes it interesting? Well, let’s see if you can tell me. Is there anything that stands out as unusual or noteworthy? (What do the columns on the side of the windows look like? What do you see at the top of the columns of the portal? What do you see in the top horizontal part of the portal?)

So that’s the main distinguishing feature of Manueline architecture: that the decoration features symbols and objects related to navigation. In some examples of Manueline architecture you can also see sea shells, seaweed and other elements of the sea.

Now, that’s interesting enough on its own, but this is more than just a style of architecture. Like rulers before him in other times and other places, Manuel used building projects as a way to glorify his reign and project his wealth. And because his reign coincided precisely with the most glorious period in the history of Portugal, Manueline architecture became a way to convey that glory to the people. Think about how ordinary people, before mass media, would have found out about the great feats of the Portuguese across the oceans. Not only during the Age of Discovery, when these two buildings were built, but for centuries afterwards. I think there are two concrete ways in the pre-modern world that Portuguese people would have known about and celebrated their country’s past: one, if they were literate, by reading The Lusiads, Camões’ epic national poem about the Age of Discovery, or two, by looking at these Manueline buildings, which evoke an age of grandeur and glory that Portugal has not quite recaptured since.

The most glorious examples of Manueline architecture left are in Belém, just outside Lisbon. The first of these is the Jerónimos Monastery (1501), seen here from the outside and the inside of the church.

39779589033_0e3db1879b_c.jpg

47071298091_e818e5b87c_c.jpg

The second is the Belém Tower, dating from 1519:

50194630361_2095962ace_c.jpg

There are also Manueline elements as part of the architectural hodgepodge of the Convento do Cristo in Tomar, including this famous window:

39851946813_21287ceaf5_c.jpg
 
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This is at the Batalha monastery in Portugal,
As far as I can tell, there is only one Manueline building left in Lisbon proper:
That these high arches did not come tumbling down in the 1755 Lisbon earthquake speaks volumes about the skillful engineering of the vaulting in the ceilings. The ceiling of the Batalha monastery is astonishing!

Edit — It turns out the Church of Our Lady of the Conception was not unscathed:
On 1 November 1755, the Lisbon earthquake partially destroyed the Church, resulting in the destruction of part of the vaulted-ceiling and a belfry over the lateral doorway.[1][2] A fire, which was triggered after the event, consumed the orphanage, except the chapel of the Holy Sacrament (the former Chapel of D. Simôa), and altarpiece of the Chapel of the Holy Christ of Padecentes. The church of Conceição dos Freiras was also ruined,
 
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C clearly

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The second is the Belém Tower, dating from 1519:
On seeing that photo, I immediately wanted to know why it is sitting in the water. In case anyone ele wonders, Wikipedia tells me that

"It has incorrectly been stated that the tower was built in the middle of the Tagus and now sits near the shore because the river was redirected after the 1755 Lisbon earthquake. In fact, the tower was built on a small island in the Tagus river near the Lisbon shore."

Even assuming that the "small island" was a bit bigger at that time, it is very odd to see, and to imagine the construction process.
 

jungleboy

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That these high arches did not come tumbling down in the 1755 Lisbon earthquake speaks volumes about the skillful engineering of the vaulting in the ceilings. The ceiling of the Batalha monastery is astonishing!

Edit — It turns out the Church of Our Lady of the Conception was not unscathed:
I walked by today and took a photo of the plaque outside the church:

IMG_1997.jpg
 
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As I remember though both the Burgos and León cathedrals had large choirs in the nave on the opposite side of the transept from the apse. I believe that the one in León at least was a later addition. I didn't like it. From the rear it blocked too much of the church. It's like building a shed in the middle of your living room.
Here is a picture I took in the León Cathedral showing what I mean.
Q07400-HOR.jpg
 

Kathar1na

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Here is a picture I took in the León Cathedral showing what I mean.
View attachment 89694
I don't recall this "interior roof" structure. They did a lot of renovation work. This looks like a temporary structure to me. The "Coro" does not have a roof, as far as I remember and as far as I can tell from online photos.

Here is a 360º panorama photo, taken from the inside of the choir: https://www.360cities.net/image/the-choir-of-cathedral-leon-span-northern-spain . When you scroll upwards, you can see that they are actively working on the large windows on the right and on the left so I guess the wooden platform serves a purpose in relation to the renovation work. Or did I misunderstand your comment?
 
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I don't recall this "interior roof" structure. They did a lot of renovation work. This looks like a temporary structure to me.
Yeah, I really goofed here (avoiding a better expression). I'll leave it at that.

I never intended to mean there was a roof although saying shed may have implied that and the picture of the temporary scaffolding didn't help. It is the wall that blocks the view. It is a pretty wall but it hides the space that the original builders put in.

Thanks for the 360 view. I have to find my viewer now. The following page has a picture of the León Cathedral (the third one) that illustrates my point better than my attempt.
 

NorthernLight

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Sometimes I wonder if there were people in Santiago then who were saddened to be watching that happen. Did everybody think the Baroque additions were better, or were there people walking around shaking their heads in dismay?

We do that now when we see monstrosities being built. A couple decades later, we are used to it and perhaps no longer offended by it. Perhaps.

And it will be finished in 2026, or a little later, apparently!

Apparently they found a solution to how to actually build some elements, and thus were able to speed up the process and knock off a lot of years to the finish date. It’s interesting to contemplate how many generations have passed while watching it go up.
 

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