Medieval Church Architecture

Medieval Church Architecture

Medieval church architecture was seen as very important within Medieval England - people believed they were praising God more if they invested a lot of money in the cathedrals.

Consequently, this meant churches and cathedrals in medieval England were built incredibly well in comparison to the unstable wattle and daub peasant homes which no longer exist today. The huge amount of money gathered by the church presented it with the opportunity to pour into big building projects. A lot of the surviving medieval churches and cathedrals have additions placed onto them, so the different styles of building within the same structure are evident - such as York Minster which has sections able to be traced from 1080 through to 1100 and significant expansion work over 1220-1253 and 1291-1360 along with the Central Tower’s completion between 1407-1465.

These different styles which developed over nearly 400 years provide historians with an insight into the progression of church architecture.

Exeter Cathedral
Exeter Cathedral

William the Conqueror’s reign saw the creation of the first cathedrals in England, and the king assigned Norman bishops to all of them except Worcester Cathedral. This meant the men would be greatly influenced by Normandy architecture and this particular style eventually took over the church architecture during William’s reign.

Norman architecture is recognisable for its rounded shape and the use of large stones. The Normans used Saxon labourers who were not very skilled and had limited tools like axes and chisels, and generally it is believed the Normans did not think the Saxons were very capable of managing the skill of cutting stone to certain measurements - hence why they used large stones.

Norman walls and pillars had faced stone on the outside surfaces but rubble was placed inside the hollow amongst the cut stone, so the effect would create wall, rubble and wall. Until the central core of pillars became filled with rubble, they were basically hollow. However this building method was not very strong and as a way to deal with this, the Normans ensured their walls were a lot thicker than newer building styles that relied on especially cut stone which fitted within surrounding blocks which made itself strong.

Norman church doorways of a cathedral or church were normally very well decorated with arches that went back into the walls. Windows were similarly built but also kept small and did not allow much light in as the Normans came to realise if their walls had larger window spaces, they would not be able to support the roof weight.

The Normans made use of large pillars to help with supporting the roofs as they enabled the weight to spread out in different directions within the foundations through each pillar - meaning the walls did not have to support the whole roof weight.

Norman church and cathedral ceilings were vaulted which meant the roof weight could be evened out through the pillars and walls since the central vault points rested on top of the pillars.

The three vaulting styles used by the Normans were barrel, rib and cross.

Norman architecture was obviously a great success as a lot of their church and cathedral buildings are still existing today. Gothic church architecture was main architectural style used after the Normans.

See also:

The Medieval Church

MLA Citation/Reference

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