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 the Continent, invading the old Viking empire
of Scandinavia. It confronted the Byzantine provinces of Central Europe and
even made appearances in the near East and the Americas. Gothic architects
designed town halls, royal palaces, courthouses, and hospitals. They fortified
cities and castles to defend lands against invasion. But it was in the service
of the church, the most prolific builder of the Middle Ages, that the Gothic
style got its most meaningful expression, providing the widest scope for the
development of architectural ideas.1
Although 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 around Paris, including Saint-Denis and
Chartres, to the region of the Champagne in the east and southward to Bourges.
Within this restricted area, in the series of cathedrals built in the course of
the 12th and 13th centuries, the major innovations of Gothic architecture took
The supernatural character of medieval religious architecture was given
a special form in the Gothic church. "Medieval man considered himself but an
imperfect refraction of Divine Light of God, Whose Temple stood on earth,
according to the text of the dedication ritual, stood for the Heavenly City of
Jerusalem."3 The Gothic interpretation of this point of view was a cathedral so
grand that seems to belittle the man who enters it, for space, light, structure
and the plastic effects of the stonework are made to produce a visionary scale.
The result of the Gothic style is distortion as there is no fixed set of
proportions in the parts. Such architecture did not only express the physical
and spiritual needs of the Church, but also the general attitude of the people
of that... [continues]
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