06 Dec Cathedral Construction in the Middle Ages
America is known for being a melting pot of cultures, religions, languages, peoples and philosophies. Today, over four centuries later, many religions are practiced in America, and various structures have been built as houses of faith and worship.
Several of these constructions recall earlier religious architectural styles, and this is absolutely true pertaining to Gothic cathedrals. Anyone who has had the chance to walk through one of these structures integrated in medieval Europe can’t be but help spellbound by the immensity of their size, the powerful appearance of their facades, or the stunning beauty of their stained glass windows.
These cathedrals are symbols of faith, built without the modern construction equipment of today. And how did those huge, heavy stone structures have walls of glass?
Medieval manuscripts show depictions of cathedral construction, and from them we learn that a pulley system was used to get heavy stones up multiple stories. As a person walked inside the wheel, it would put tension on the rope, leveraging the stones higher and higher. Once the stones were put in place, it was essential that each layer of rock was level to create the necessary balance for the overall structure.
In earlier times, the only way to build a tall building was to build it with thick walls. How were people living in the Middle Ages able to build these towers of stone that had relatively thin walls filled with gorgeous glass? The answer hinges on three components of their architectural design: the pointed arch, flying buttresses, and vaulted ceilings which mimic the same engineering behind a Gothic arch.
In a pivoted arch, the weight of the stonework circulates in a more lateral fashion, putting stress on the walls of the structure. The brilliance of the Gothic (pointed) arch, however, is that this engineering development directed the weight down the arch to the ground. With all of the weight being shifted to the ground, the walls were then able to be comprised largely of beautifully colored windows.
Additionally, medieval architects constructed flying buttresses, which essentially act as huge stone arms placed at the greatest stress points in the arches to support the weight of the heavy stone. Vaulted ceilings have the same pointed design of the Gothic arch, driving the weight of the entire structure to the ground, rather than distributing the weight through the walls.
Once they had figured out how to drive the weight to the ground, it opened up the option of allowing light to stream into the church by creating walls of colorful glass. In medieval times, glass makers would add metals to the liquid glass mixture to create unique colors in the glass. They would shape that glass into discs and then once they had achieved a desired hue it could be cut, with other colored glass discs, into the various pieces that would come together to create vibrantly colored windows.
There’s no question about it; these buildings exemplify a huge architectural feat, and they’re still spectacular when you walk inside them today. And while the Gothic style cathedrals developed on American soil aren’t as old as the ones built in the Middle Ages, they have something in common, beside their design: they were built as sacred structures to house worshipers.
As a motorcoach company, we love teaming up with church groups using our charter bus rental Boston. Please don’t hesitate to call if we can help transport your cathedral choir to a benefit performance or help in shuttling at a church sponsored event. Motorcoaches are intended to give transportation on a larger scale. Whether it’s for worship or service, we’re on hand for all of your congregational needs! (And, if you loved checking this out and want to discover more about Gothic cathedral construction in the Middle Ages, go to this documentary by PBS that we watched to get the information for this article: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=gFxNFxjV4IA.).