The Gothic Flowering: Continental Romanesque: 1066 – 1200

The Romanesque style took inspiration from Roman culture and arts. In architecture, it incorporated the Roman arch and continued the Roman basilica form, with the nave and aisles intersected by a transverse nave in the form of a Latin cross. The early Romanesque churches had wooden ceilings which were prone to fire. By the 12th century the architects (who were mostly monks), had developed sufficient architectural and engineering skills to build a very high stone vaulted ceiling which was strengthened by ribs which transferred the weight of the ceiling through the walls to exterior supports called flying buttresses, which, in turn, transferred that weight to the ground. The effect this architectural style which culminated in the Gothic style was intended to achieve was a heaven-ward experience through elegance of verticle line, both exteriorly and interiorly.  The exterior was richly and ornately decorated with elegant spires, decorations, and sculptures from which the supports of the roof must not detract.  The challenge to the architect of such structures was how to support it so without distracting from its sense of celestial elegance.

The interior was not only spacious, but, with its aisles, stained-glass windows, columns and soaring vaulted ceilings, transported the serfs from their hard and monotonous existence outside the cathedral to a spiritual experience within it through stained glass windows which shone in sunlight with the rich and multicolored light of heaven upon murals and statues depicting the Biblical faith stories to which these common folk clung through the week.

The experience within the cathedral must have been powerful, since the peasant –serfs, despite their extreme poverty, insecure and demanding existence, gave liberally to the Church.  Such  opulence could hardly have been obtained solely by the serfs’ extravagant giving, as meager as it must have been. The feudal system was exceptionally effective to harness serf labor for the financial gain of feudal lords at a minimum cost, which enabled the aristocracy also to give liberally to the Church  for additional “spiritual” benefits such as indulgences.  Beyond that, the Church, itself had large land holdings, in many cases, surpassing that of the kings, lord’s, and nobles.  As Will Durant put it in The Age of Faith, Chapter 32, The Gothic Flowering, at page 863, “The population was small but it believed; it was poor but it gave.”

For video see ; ;

For the role of the peasant in the life of the church and medieval society, see

For an article on medieval architecture, see

For an excellent outline of elements of Gothic style and life, see

For an excellent, readable, diagrammatically illustrated article on medieval architecture, see and

For an excellent article on the necessary elements for building a cathedral, including social, financial, and architectural engineering support see

For an excellent summary of the pre-Gothic and Gothic periods, their arts and architecture, see

for an excellent skeletal presentation of medieval ecclesiastical, societal, and artistic life, and other resources on the subjects and on medieval life, see

For an excellent site dedicated to presenting medieval society and arts to kids, including both information and games incorporating that information, see,,, and .

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