The Wonder of Cathedrals

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Since the beginning, man has always had some form of faith. Whether it was worshiping rocks or praying to God. No matter what faith, they’ve always had a center of worship. Well when the middle-ages came around, Christian’s centers were the cathedrals where the bishops were placed. Cathedrals were the pinnacle of the European churches. They demonstrated the wealth and the power of the city’s Christian church. But with such extravagant attention placed into these structures, one can only wonder what it must have taken to create such detail and why these were built the way they were.

Cathedrals are mainly churches that were built rather large, but they were also small at times. The main idea was to have a bishop placed on a throne in the cathedral. An early decree stated that a bishop’s Cathedra, or office, could not be placed in the church of a village, but only in a city (“Middle Ages. net”). With abundant towns and cities being centers for Christianity, this wasn’t much of a problem for Europe. But this wasn’t the case for the British Isles, because their towns were few and the bishops were bishops of tribes, instead of having of having jurisdiction over separate areas.

These Bishops were involved with groups such as the South Saxons, West Saxons, Somerseats, and many other groups. Also, instead of having their established churches, these bishops were often migratory. Most European bishops must have been happy with their arrangement, because if they were placed in a nice cathedral then they could stay there until they died. But if a bishop’s Cathedra were to be removed from the church, then this action would deprive the church of its Cathedral dignity (“Middle Ages. net”). It seems that having a bishop must have been a big deal for cities.

The Cathedrals were the most obvious symbol of a church’s wealth. It must have been a competition of who had the nicest and largest Cathedral. In 1163, Notre-Dame in Paris was the highest at 34m tall and from then on they just got bigger; such as the Strasbourg Cathedral Spire which is 142 M high, identical to a 45 story building (“Medieval Spell”). The most popular of the large cathedrals are found in places like Canterbury and York, then in other major cities. Just by looking at pictures, one can only imagine what it must ave taken to create these Cathedrals.

The cost of these monstrosities must have been ridiculous, but the money came from the many payments that the people had to make to the Roman Catholic Church. But with so much money placed into these structures, it’s obvious that there must have been a lot of effort placed into them. The workers of these builds used basic tools, from a pickaxe to a chisel and everything in between, but they used devotion to create such magnificent structures. The first step was to appoint an architect to design the structure.

In turn, this architect would choose master craftsmen that he knew would have the skills to construct the Cathedral. These master masons would have their specific trade and workshop with their own selected masons in order to run their own system and method to work on their particular field. Then unskilled workers from around the area would be hired to do the hard labor, such as lifting objects and doing whatever the masons needed them to do. Even though each one trade might seem skilled enough to handle their own, this wasn’t the case; as each trade relied on the other.

An example would be that a master blacksmith would make the metal tools needed while the carpenters made the wooden handles. Even though it appears that the architect is in charge, every build needs to have a customer. This customer was a body of individuals that decided how much money could be spent and decide the final design of the cathedral, they are also known as a Chapter. The whole process must have been a challenge, even without the machinery that we have today these medieval workers would create these beautiful cathedrals with the most basic tools and a strong organization.

One thing that every building needs is a foundation, which was a difficult task to even think about without today’s machinery. When a plan was decided, the work would begin and the foundation would be constructed. But for some cathedrals they might use the same foundation and construct a whole new one over the old one, such the Canterbury Cathedral which was built by combining parts of the foundation of the old one to create the new one (Trueman). There must have been amazing skill into placing these foundations because some of them have gone as deep as twenty-five feet underground.

But the exaggeration of skill was necessary because if there were any weaknesses the foundation, then it’s obvious that the walls above the ground would receive problems due to weakness, which was further exacerbated by placing the roof over it all. When these foundations were being placed, the craftsmen worked along with their laborers in order to produce the blocks of stone needed for the building process. The sight of perhaps fifty apprentices working in a quarry along with their 250 laborers wasn’t unusual.

As they worked, they were being supervised by a master quarry-man who received templates from a master mason for the shapes required to cut the quarry stone. Then each stone would be marked in order to show where it would go during the building process. Obviously along with the craftsmanship of these structures one can’t help but think of the styling that was involved.

The architecture was based on the old Roman basilica style but over time evolved into two styles: the Romanesque and the Gothic(Carr) Romanesque architecture was the early style of cathedrals used in Western Europe from as early as 1050 A. D. To about 1200. During the age of feudalism, there were few cities. So instead of relying on themselves, men depended on castles or monasteries for protection. Structures such as those provide some of the best examples of Romanesque architecture. The architecture of this period was usually heavy and sometimes had a crude look because its builders at first had little skill.

Builders usually constructed Romanesque churches in the shape of a Latin cross. Most of these churches appear to be rather dark and often with a low appearance. The builders often used stone roofs constructed on the principle of an arch, also called vaults. Lower side aisles led to a higher central aisle, or nave. These cathedrals had thick walls and heavy columns between the nave and side aisles. The architects usually designed round arches for windows, doors, and the spaces between the columns. Sculptors often carved figures on the columns and arches.

Artists also decorated the walls of Romanesque churches with frescoes portraying religious stories. Later, architects attempted to build higher and brighter churches. This development led to the growth of Gothic architecture. Gothic architecture was first created in France during the mid-1100’s. The first Gothic building we re parts of the abbey church of St. Denis and the Cathedral of Sens. During the 1200’s, Gothic architecture spread to England, Germany, Italy, and other parts of Europe. This architecture seems to have a tendency to emphasize height.

The architects designed pointed arches and tall, slender columns that rose from the floor to the stone framework of ribbed vaulting. The architects also reduced wall surfaces, replacing them with beautiful stained-glass windows that told religious stories. This addition is much like the Romanesque cathedrals with their frescoes. Gothic architecture originally had simple lines, but it became increasingly elaborate. Through evidence, there’s two countries who have perfected the Gothic Art: France and England.

Each country had different periods of evolution of the Gothic style. France had four periods: Early, Lancet, Rayonnant, and Flamboyant. Flamboyant, as defined in the Webster’s II Dictionary, means extremely elaborate; also having waved lines and flame-like forms. This was typical of 15th and 16th century French Gothic architecture. Then England had three periods: Early English, Decorated, and Perpendicular, which was like the Flamboyant style of France. No matter what way the builders constructed these cathedrals, they each had their own own distinct beauty.

As a symbol of power and opulence, the European cathedrals were of great meaning to the many Christians of the medieval time. Whether it was to go to pray to God, get married, or for baptisms, cathedrals were an essential part of the middle-age life. What made these churches so wonderful was the fact that the construction of them was done by pure devotion and strong faith of the ordinary medieval people(“Medieval Spell”). Only through knowing the meaning of such wondrous structures and the creation of them, one can learn to appreciate their beauty.

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