Monday, August 16, 2010

Birds, Demons and Gargoyles - OH MY!

As you have read in my past posts, gothic architecture was not just about adornment. This new Gothic fashion brought forth new pioneering techniques that allowed for cathedrals, churches, synagogues, and numerous other types of buildings to reach great heights (Craven). In my last post I shared the flying buttress and ribbed vaulting with you. Today I will share another technique with you, probably the most important of the three, the pointed arch. Much has been said about the contribution of the pointed arch to the Gothic formation (Fitchen). This technique was not a new concept. Builders during the earlier Romanesque era utilized pointed arches but did not profit from them. Architects during the Gothic era realized that the pointed arch had many architectural advantages and would give buildings added strength and solidity allowing the weight of the roof to be supported by the arches rather than the walls which further meant the walls could be thinner (Craven). They were sturdier than the rounded arch by twenty to twenty-five percent and less material was needed to construct the pointed arch. The pointed arch helped builders by allowing them to build higher walls. Higher walls meant more space for windows, which in turn allowed more light to filter in opening up the interior space of the building (Scott).

Cathedrals and churches were the most prevalent and primary buildings found in cities.  Over several centuries, cathedrals erected in the High Gothic style became increasingly elaborate. Builders began to add hundreds of sculptures, towers, and pinnacles (Craven). defines a pinnacle as a relatively small, upright structure, commonly terminating in a gable, a pyramid, or a cone, rising above the roof or coping of a building, or capping a tower, buttress, or other projecting architectural member.  Many Gothic cathedrals were heavily adorned with grotesque and leering creatures called gargoyles (Craven). Gargoyles have been used for more than 2,000 years and were popular in Europe from about 1000 AD to 1500 AD (Encyclopedia Britannica on line). The original use for gargoyles was as a water spout (Craven) because if water were to continually run down the sides of a building, they would eventually start to deteriorate. Instead, water would drain from a gutter that was positioned on the ledge of a building, down into the gargoyles and then shoot out of their mouths onto the street below; flowing away from the walls and foundation of the buildings (Encyclopedia Britannica on line). If gargoyles were not being used as water spouts, they were called Grotesques and then were not classified as true gargoyles (Encyclopedia Britannica on line). These repulsive and strange gargoyles, which were sometimes carved into the shape of dragons, demons and misshapen birds, were also thought to scare away evil spirits (medieval life and These hideous gargoyles represented evil and were used to contrast the beauty of a cathedral which represented good. They were also believed to be a non-Christian symbol that would allow non-believers to feel more at ease about attending church. They would sit on their back legs balanced high on the edge of the cathedral inviting all to attend.

Craven, Jackie. "Architecture." Guide. Web. 16 August  2010.
Fitchen, John. The Construction of Gothic Cathedrals: A Study of Medieval Vault Erection. Chicago:
     TheUniversity Chicago Press, 1961. Print
"Gargoyle." Britannica Elementary Encyclopedia. Encyclopedia Britannica Online chool Edition.
     Encyclopedia Britannica, 2010. Web. 15 August 2010.
"Gargoyle." Compton's by Britannica. Encyclopedia Britannica Online School Edition.
     Encyclopedia Britannica, 2010. Web. 15 August 2010.
"Gargoyle." Medieval Life and Times. 16 August 2010.
Glancey, Jonathan. Artchitecture. Eyewitness Companions. New York: Dorling Kindersley Limited. 2006,
Scott, Robert A. The gothic Enterprise: A Guide to Understanding The Medieval Cathedral. California:
     University of California Press, 2003. Print.
Swaan, Wim. Art and Architecture of the Late Middle Ages. 1350 to the Advent of the Renaissance.
     London: Omega Books Limited, 1982. Print.
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