Gothic Church Architecture

Gothic Church Architecture

Medieval Gothic church architecture first originated from Norman architecture. The phrase ‘Gothic architecture’ is used as a label for building styles between 1200 and 1500.

This extensive time period saw several different styles develop within Gothic architecture, and it is typical to divide them up within three sections: Between 1200 to 1500 the building is known as Early English, 1300 to 1400 is referred to as Decorated and 1400 to 1500 is named Perpendicular. Church buildings commonly show examples from each of these time periods.

Gothic church architecture and cathedrals are commonly recognised from their large towers and spires - manifested by a more advanced engineering knowledge compared to the ‘dumpy’ Norman architecture.

Gothic architecture
Gothic architecture

Norman buildings and Gothic church architecture were remarkably different from each other. A growth in skills and knowledge over the years meant stone was cut in a certain way so it fitted next to other blocks of stone - meaning large blocks of stone used by the Normans were replaced by shaped stone. Additionally, the hollow Norman walls were rejected by architects in later time periods. Walls and pillars became solid which meant they could manage much larger weights, and this enabled churches and cathedrals to be a lot bigger than the Norman ones had been. Alongside the wealth acquired by the Church, this explains why Gothic church architecture was so much larger than before.

Pointed arches were another evolutionary part of improved church buildings - the shape meant a much bigger weight could be carried in comparison to the rounded Norman arches. Cathedral roofs were also a lot bigger than Norman roofs, meaning they were a lot heavier. The architects of the time developed additions known as ‘buttresses’ to be certain the walls and pillars could support such a great weight. These were designed to add to the main cathedral which allowed the extra weight to be moved over to other parts of the cathedral building alongside the nave and down into the foundations. ‘Flying buttresses’ also meant the outward pressure of the massive roofs could be resisted.

The weight of the York Minster roof generated so much worry that all the vaults were made from wood except in the smallest aisles. This helped to lessen the pressure on the pillars and foundations but gradually caused further problems to do with fire and death watch beetles. Flying buttresses were added to York Minster in the nineteenth century.

The new ability to deal with large weights meant Gothic architects could also use larger stain glass windows, whereas the Normans had to put up with small slit windows. One example is the Great East window at York Minster which is the same size as a tennis court.

The new large buildings were very expensive and most of the money came from English society - in particular the taxes paid to the Church for baptisms, marriages and deaths, tithes and peasants working for free on church land. The income from all of these helped to build cathedrals such as Lincoln, York, Canterbury and Chichester.

See also:

Medieval Church Architecture

Medieval Cathedrals

Canterbury Cathedral

MLA Citation/Reference

"Gothic Church Architecture". HistoryLearning.com. 2015. Web.