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§ 94. The Cathedrals.


Literature: J. Fergusson: Hist. of Architecture in All Countries, 2 vols. 1865–1867, and since.—Sir G. G. Scott: The Rise and Devel. of Med. Arch., London, 1879.—Viollet-Le Duc: Lectures on Arch., Engl. trans., 2 vols. London, 1877.—T. R. Smith: Arch. Gothic and Renaissance, N. Y., 1880.—B. Ferree: Christ. Thought in Arch., in Papers of Am. Soc. of Ch. Hist., 1892, pp. 113–140.—F. X. Kraus: Gesch. der christl. Kunst, 2 vols. Freib., 1896–1900.—F. Bond: Engl. cathedrals, London, 1899.—R. STURGIS: Dict. of Arch. and Building, 3 vols. N. Y., 1901 sq.—Art. Kirchenbau by Hauck, in Herzog, X. 774–793. P. Lacroix: The Arts of the Middle Ages, Engl. trans., London.—Ruskin: Stones of Venice, Seven Lamps of Arch., and other writings. This enthusiastic admirer of architecture, especially the Gothic, judged art from the higher standpoint of morality and religion.


The cathedrals of the Middle Ages were the expression of religious praise and devotion and entirely the product of the Church. No other element entered into their construction. They were hymns in stone, and next to the universities are the most imposing and beneficent contribution the mediaeval period made to later generations. The soldiery of the Crusades failed in its attempt at conquest. The builders at home wrought out structures which have fed the piety and excited the admiration of all ages since. They were not due to the papacy but to the devotion of cities, nobles, and people.

It was a marked progress from the triclinia, or rooms in private houses, and crypts, in which the early Christians worshipped, to the cathedral of St. Sophia, at the completion of which Justinian is said to have exclaimed, "O Solomon, I have excelled thee." And what a change it was from the huts and rude temples of worship of Central and Northern Europe to the splendid structures dedicated to Christian worship,—the worship which Augustine of Canterbury, and Boniface, and St. Ansgar had introduced among the barbarous Northern tribes!

It is also characteristic that the great mediaeval structures were not palaces or buildings devoted to commerce, although the Gothic palace of the doges, in Venice, and the town halls of Brussels, Louvaine, and other cities of Belgium and Holland are extensive and imposing. They were buildings devoted to religion, whether cathedral or conventual structures. They were often, as in France, placed on an elevation or in the centre of the city, and around them the dwellings clustered as if for protection.

The great cathedrals became a daily sermon, bearing testimony to the presence of God and the resurrection of Christ. They served the people as a Bible whose essential teachings they beheld with the eye. Through the spectacle of their walls and soaring spires, their thoughts were uplifted to spiritual things. Their ample spaces, filled or dimly lit with the sunlight piercing through stained-glass windows, reminded them of the glory of the life beyond, which makes itself known through varied revelations to the lonely and mysterious existence of the earth. The strong foundations and massive columns and buttresses typified the stability of God’s throne, and that He hath made all things through the word of His power.

Their construction occupied years and, in cases, centuries were necessary to complete them. Who can estimate the prayers and pious devotion which the laying of the first stones called forth, and which continued to be poured out till the last layer of stones was laid on the towers or fitted into the finial? Their sculpture and stained-glass windows, frescoes, and paintings presented scenes from Scripture and the history of the Church. There, kings and queens, warriors, and the men whom the age pronounced godly were laid away in sepulture, a custom continued after the modern period had begun, as in the case of Luther and Melanchthon, whose ashes rest in the Castle Church of Wittenberg. In spite of frequent fires consuming parts of the great churches or the entire buildings, they were restored or reconstructed, often several times, as in the case of the cathedrals of Chartres, Canterbury, and Norwich. Central towers collapsed, as in the case of Winchester, Peterborough, Lincoln, and other English cathedrals, but they were rebuilt. In the erection of these churches princes and people joined, and to further this object they gave their contributions of material and labor. The women of Ulm gave up all their ornaments to advance the work upon the cathedral of that city, and to the construction of the cathedral in Cologne Germans in all lands contributed.

The eleventh century is the beginning of one of the most notable periods of architecture in the world’s history, lasting for nearly three centuries. It has a distinct character of its own and in its service high talent was consecrated. The monks may be said to have led the way by their zeal to erect strong, ample, and beautiful cloistral establishments. These called forth in France the ambition of the bishops to surpass them. Two styles of architecture are usually distinguished in this period, the Romanesque, called in England also the Norman, and the Gothic. Writers on architecture make a number of subdivisions and some have included all the architecture of the twelfth to the fifteenth centuries under the title Gothic, or Christian Pointed. During these centuries Europe, from the South to far Northern Scotland and Sweden, was dotted with imposing structures which on the one hand vied with St. Sophia of Constantinople, and on the other have been imitated but not equalled since.

In Rome as late as the thirteenth century, when Honorius III. began the construction of San Lorenzo, the old basilica style continued to rule. The Romanesque style started from Northern Italy and, in the beginning of the eleventh century, crossed the Alps, where it had its most glorious triumphs. In Italy, the cathedral of Pisa represents the blending of the old and the new, the cruciform shape and the dome. In Germany, the cathedrals of Spires, Worms, and Mainz belong to this period, and in England its earlier cathedrals, or portions of them, like Winchester, begun about 1070, Worcester about 1084, Peterborough about 1120, Norwich about 1096, Ely about 1083, Durham about 1099.

For the fundamental ground plan of the basilica was substituted the form of the cross. The size of the choir was increased and the choir was elevated. It was the age of the priesthood, and sacerdotalism was represented in the enlargement of the altar, in increased and rich stalls for the clergy, and spaces at the rear of the altar. These features also belong to the preceding period, but now receive greater emphasis. The large end of the cross, or nave, especially in the English cathedrals, was greatly extended so that the altar and its furniture were seen from afar, for the chief doors were in that end, which faced the west. In England, the transepts, or arms of the cross, became long and spacious. The tower became a prominent feature, and buttresses were added to the walls. In Italy, the tower took the shape of a campanile, which was built in addition to the dome, and was sometimes a separate building and never an essential part of it. The vaulted and groined roof took the place of the flat roof.

The Gothic style, so called in Italy from its reputed barbaric features, found altogether its highest development in the North, and started in Northern France. It is the grandest style of church architecture ever wrought out. It was shown in the height of the church walls and in spires struggling to reach to the very throne of God itself. The vault of the cathedral of Amiens is 147 feet above the floor, of Beauvais 157 feet, of Cologne 155 feet. This style developed the pointed arch, perpendicular lines, the lancet window. It had some of the features of the Lombardy poplars, soaring, stern, solemn. In its strong, ramparted buttresses, its towers, and its massive columns, it represented the hardihood and strength of the northern forest. Its pointed roofs were adapted to receive the storms of snow common to the North. Its flying buttresses and elaborate carvings within, and its splendid entrances, especially in the French cathedrals, typified the richness of Christian promise and hope.

The Gothic style started in France in the thirteenth century. Notable examples are found in Rheims, begun 1211, Amiens, Laon, and in Notre Dame, Paris, begun in 1163. The arches are less pointed than in England and the portals are on a much grander scale and more highly ornamented. At Notre Dame we have one of the finest specimens of flying buttresses. In its case and most cases of French Gothic there are towers. The cathedrals of Paris, Amiens, and Rheims have unfinished towers. The Sainte Chapelle in Paris is a splendid piece of pure Gothic.

In Germany, fine examples of Gothic are found in the church at Marburg dedicated to St. Elizabeth, in Nürnberg, Bamberg, Freiburg, Strassburg, and other cities. The cathedral of Cologne is said to be the most perfect specimen of Gothic in existence. Its choir was begun in 1248, Konrad of Hochsteden laying the corner-stone in the presence of the newly elected emperor, William of Holland, and many princes. The choir was dedicated in 1322. By 1437 one of the towers was finished up to one-third of its present height. At the time of the Reformation the roof was covered with boards. In the nineteenth century the original plans were discovered and the completion of the edifice, including the two spires, was made a national undertaking. The work was finished in 1880.

England is rich in memorials of mediaeval architecture which began with the arrival of the Normans. The nation’s life is interwoven with them, and Westminster Abbey is perhaps the most august place of sepulture in the world. In addition to the cathedrals already mentioned, Lincoln, Canterbury, York, Salisbury, and other great churches were begun in this period. Addition after addition was made till the noble churches of England got their final shape. The tower is one of the prominent features of the English cathedral, Lichfield being probably the most important with spires. The finest outside impression is made by Salisbury and Lincoln minsters. Many of these cathedrals were built by Benedictine monks, such as Canterbury, Durham, Ely, and Norwich, and by the canons regular of St. Augustine, as Carlisle and Bristol. Lincoln, Chichester, Salisbury, York, St. David’s, and others were served by secular priests.

The architects of Scotland seem to have come from England and to have built after English models. The noblest of her mediaeval churches are Glasgow, St. Andrews, Dumblane, and Elgin, and among her convents, Kelso, Dryburgh, Holyrood, and Melrose.

In Spain, great minsters at Toledo, Burgos, and other cities were built in Gothic style in the thirteenth century, and Seville, which offers the largest floor surface of all the Christian churches, and is also of the same type, was begun in 1401 and completed 1520.

In Italy, Gothic was never fully at home. The cathedrals of Milan, Florence, and Siena are regarded as its finer specimens. Siena was begun in 1243. The minster of Milan was not begun till 1385. It is the largest Christian church after Seville and St. Peter’s. Its west façade is out of accord with the rest of the structure, which is pure Gothic. It is built of white marble and soars up to the clouds in hundreds of spires. Within full sight of the Milan cathedral are the Alps, crowned with snow and elevated far above the din of human traffic and voices; and in comparison with those mightier cathedrals of God, the creations of man seem small even as man himself seems small in comparison with his Maker.



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