The Cathedral of Our Lady of Chartres: How a Romanesque Basilica Became a French Gothic Masterpiece.

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The medieval period which dated from the fall of the Roman Empire until the beginning of the Renaissance is characterized by the advancements of the arts, humanities, science, and technology. The accomplishments of this era such as the introduction of algebra, the use of the decimal system, advancements in the translation of literature and philosophy, advancements in art and music, the invention of cannons, and the use of gunpowder had a profound impact on history. Although each of these accomplishments would later alter history, none were more powerful during this time than religious reform. Around the year 1000, the economy of France improved dramatically, which promoted a general sense of well-being. Monasteries flourished, cities began to grow again, and in them a new group of merchants and craftsmen emerged who would come to be known as the bourgeoisie. Trade returned to create a moneyed economy. Due in part to the popularity of pilgrimages to religious sites and in part to the Crusades, which began in France, the High Middle Ages saw a prodigious amount of monumental building and technological innovation in both secular and religious architecture. Architectural historians conventionally divide the High Middle Ages into the Romanesque and Gothic styles of architecture, which are differentiated by both formal and technical qualities. Romanesque is characterized by a revival of large-scale masonry construction and the rediscovery (or reinvention) of lost Roman building techniques and forms, thus the term Romanesque. Architectural styles were mastered, improved upon, and transformed. Magnificent cathedrals such as St. Sernin Cathedral were built in the classic Romanesque design. New architectural styles and building techniques lead to the building of Gothic cathedrals. Most French Gothic churches are immediately recognizable, offering gravity-defying stone skeletons surrounded by a forest of freestanding buttresses connected to the body of the building by flying arches (flying buttresses). Tall, pointed arches replace the squatter round arches that characterize Romanesque architecture, and delicately ribbed vaults replace the thick, barrel-shaped vaults that covered the interiors of Romanesque churches. Because of this sophisticated skeletal structure, Gothic architects could create outer walls of jewel-like stained glass instead of the thick walls and small windows of Romanesque churches1. Salisbury Cathedral is one of France's largest Gothic Cathedrals. However, no chapel better illustrates both the classic Gothic and the underlying Romanesque architectural styles than Chartres Cathedral. The Cathedral of Our Lady of Chartres, (French: Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Chartres), located in Chartres, about 80 km from Paris, is considered one of the finest examples in all France of the Gothic style of architecture; however this was not always so. The city of Chartres, which received its name from the Carnutes, a late Iron Age Celtic tribe, was a main center for the Druids, priests of the Gallic religion, and a regional capital of Celtic France. Druids gathered once a year at the sacred center of the Carnutes in an oak grove with a well, where they settled legal disputes and religious questions. This oak grove was to become the future site of Chartres Cathedral2. Plagued by disastrous fires that destroyed the earlier Cathedral many times, Bishop Fulbert (960-1028) initiated the construction of a large basilica in 1020. The subsequent basilica was of the classic Romanesque architecture. It was characterized by its enormous quality, its thick walls, round arches, sturdy piers, well-built vaults, large towers and ornamental arcading. Each building had clearly defined forms and they were often very symmetrical, so that the overall appearance was one of simplicity when compared with the Gothic buildings that were to follow. The general impression given by Romanesque architecture, in both ecclesiastical and secular...
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