The Gothic period of architecture was one of the most fascinating of all the times. It also happens to be our personal favorite. The architects of the Gothic Era took old ideas, and manipulated them. In effect, they manipulated them to suit their needs. They were doing what nearly 500 years later, Louis Sullivan would put into words: Form Follows Function. The function of many Gothic buildings was to be a religious church. So, the architects said to themselves, "Hmmmm, I want a structure that will astonish all who see it. Also, I want it to seem like it touches the heavens." The leaders of the churches usually wanted their churches to be wider, taller, longer, and much more beautiful that any church ever seen before. So, the architects came up with the Gothic Cathedral.
The Gothic era of architecture actually has a specific starting point, a time or person that a historian can say THIS was the beginning. For the Gothic era, we have such a man. The man is a Benedictine abbot called Suger, the place, the Abbey Church of St.-Denis near Paris around 1144. Abbot Suger belonged to a group that had controlled most of the church building in the Romanesque style. The abbot thought that for this particular church, he would try something different. In his writings he told how the old styles were too dull and boring. His genius mind transformed a church in his mind. He would make it so tall it would appear that the top was in heaven. He would make the sides walls of glass, and invent flying buttresses to hold it all up. He could create Heaven on Earth. And so it began, the Gothic style of architecture.
The flying buttresses are very beautiful but also have technical advantages. You see, the way a Gothic church is so tall, but not wide, is because it doesn't have a complete arch. Before this, everyone believed that arches had to be a complete semi-circle to distribute the weight on the pillars that hold it up. Suger understood that all you have to do is to have something bracing the arches from the sides and you can make pointed arches. The braces became flying buttresses.
The windows were very important. One of the main concepts of Gothic architecture is light. They wanted to have rooms inside that were almost as bright as it was outside. The often pictured stories from the bible, also. They were made with small pieces of stained glass, then pieced together with a metal binding. It often took months to complete just one pane, but you have to realize that although the pane is only about a foot wide, it could be almost 100 ft. high.
Gothic Cathedrals are wonderful pieces of masterwork. Almost all that were built are still around, so if you ever happen to be in Europe, look around, and you might be lucky enough to catch a glimpse of these fantastic creations.
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