The mighty cathedral is a symbol of god, his power, and how much people respect him. But, many of these marvelous cathedrals have either rotted away or were torn down for another reason. However, there are still some cathedrals left. One of the most famous cathedrals of today is the Notre Dame in Paris, France. We also have a cathedral in our very own Washington D. C. In this section of Architecture Through the Ages, we will be talking about how a cathedral is built and what is needed to build it.
To make these massive buildings, the builders obviously needed a lot of building material. Most of the cathedrals made back then were made up of stone, mainly limestone. The citizens had to build a huge rock quarry in order to meet the needs of the builders.
Bricks were not used widely for some reason, but can be found in cathedrals only in northern and eastern Germany and southern France. These countries also used bricks to make their churches, castles, and palaces.
The material that was used to bind the stones together is called mortar. This is a material which was helped to bind the bricks and other building materials together. It was sort of like a very primitive form of cement.
Some people might not think that wood is an intricate part of the cathedral. However, wood is the building material which holds up the roofs, flying buttresses, as well as, the doors. Many different kinds of wood were used because they only used the type of wood which was easily available, as well as, which was in great supply. Furthermore, wood was used to help make some of the vaults which will be explained later on
Another feature is the stained glass window. One of the most interesting and spectacular areas of the cathedrals, it can dazzle people and shine gracefully on the ground below. More is explained in the area entitled Stained Glass Windows.
Depending on how much money the bishop and the town had, limited the size of the cathedral. Most of the large cathedrals in Europe were built too large because their bishop was a very rich man and the towns' people were very generous when it came to funding the cathedral. Some examples of this would be the cathedrals in Wells, Cologne, Paris, and Orvieto.
Interesting Fact: Before a person died, the bishop or one of the church workers would go over to the dying and ask if they would give all of their possessions over to the effort to build the cathedral.
The Gothic vaults were very difficult to build. Especially, when you have to get the stones in at the precise area, or the whole thing would collapse. The stones were usually heavy and there was no real technology to help them pull up those huge stones. Soon, the builders decided to make arches formed by placing blunt, wedge-shaped stones called voussoiros on a framework.
The reasons that the cathedrals had so many of these vaulted roofs is because the medieval builders thought that they helped reduce the risk of fire. That was really good because fires often spread and there were no fire fighters to help extinguish the fire. Also, it made the inside of the cathedral have a finished look.
The cons to having these vaults, however, is that they have a tremendous amount of weight and exert a lot of pressure upon the foundation. The builders had a way to help spread out the weight and pressure. They used piers or columns to help support them.
Like many of the buildings, the cathedral had many figurines. Some of these figures could be humans, animals, or the gargoyle. The gargoyles were built to look like frightening creatures. When it rained, it would appear that the gargoyles would be spitting water onto the ground. When it rained, it would appear that the gargoyles would be spitting water onto the ground.
That way the gargoyles were installed on the buttresses and were connected to the gutters at the base of the roof. They did this with channels along the top of the flying buttresses.
The purpose of the flying buttress was to help support them from the outside. If there were no flying buttress, then the walls would begin to lean outwards from the pressure of the vaults and the cathedral would eventually collapse.
To build the flying buttress, it was first necessary to construct temporary wooden frames which are called centering. The centering would support the weight of the stones and help maintain the shape of the arch until the mortar was dry. The centering were first built on the ground by the carpenters. Once that was done, they would be hoisted into place and fastened to the piers at the end of one buttress and at the other. These acted as temporary flying buttresses until the actual stone arch was complete.
The roof is one of the most interesting parts of a cathedral because there are many variations as to what a roof looks like. Some are pointed, some are flat, and some look like domes. Some have different colors than others.
However, there are a few things that all of these roofs have in common. First, they help block the weather from going inside of the cathedral, like all roofs. Second, somewhere in the roof, there are some figurines. Most likely, those figurines are gargoyles. Another similarity is that all roofs are supported by wood. If there was no wood to support the roofs, then the roofs would collapse. In addition, the roofs were often made out of the stone called limestone. The roofers used lead, tile, or slate for cathedrals as well. These materials were a lot lighter than the tiles that were used by the Romans or stones used in the mountain areas. The roofers also added gutters to the cathedral roofs to help draw away rain water. Thus, gargoyles were used.
Inside the cathedral, you can see many things. From arches, to statues, and, probably the most spectacular spectacles, stained glass windows. They can be located almost anywhere in the cathedral if there is room. There are a few ways to make glass. But, the one main way to make a stained glass window is to first heat sand in a furnace until it melts. When it is thoroughly melted, the glass makers take a hollow tube and stick it inside the furnace. When there is a good amount of the melted sand on the end of the tube, they blow on it until it is a ball. Then, they spin the ball until the ball turns completely flat. After that is complete, they take out the ball and then cut the glass into the shape that they want it. They get the glass the way that they want and they can either dye it, paint it, or add some coloring to make the glass a certain color. The process to make the stained glass window can take almost a month or more, depending on the size of the window.
1. Maculay, David. Cathedral: The Story of Its Construction, Boston, Houghton Mifflin Company, 1973
2. Perdrizet, Marie-Pierre, and Eddy Krahenbuhl. People of the Past: The Cathedral Builders. Brookfield, The Millbrook Press, Inc. 1990
3. Watson, Percy. Building the Medival Cathedral, Minneapolis, Lerner Publications Company, 1976