Medieval Times In the 11 th century, Europe social structure was based on a system called Feudalism. Feudalism was the social order where the peasants provided labor and military service to a lord in return for the use of his land. This meant that peasants were considered the lowest in the society and got very little food and respect. They also had to pay the most tax money back to their lords. Because the system was not fair to everyone it often caused fights amongst the people. When the peasants started to get more control over their own lives, they would turn to the Christian religion for stability.
This is why they began to build large churches called cathedrals that could hold lots of people. These first churches are described as Romanesque. Romanesque buildings were made of stone, but often had wooden roofs because people were still not very good at building stone roofs yet. If they did have stone roofs, the walls had to be very thick in order to hold up the roof. This meant there couldn't be very many windows either, so Romanesque buildings were often very heavy and dark inside. They had round arches, like the classical buildings of Rome, and decorated them with carvings of people or animals.
Chartres Cathedral, Paris
Romanesque Floor Plans
Romanesque Cathedral Architectural Style Rounded Arches. Barrel vaults. Thick walls. Darker, simplistic interiors. Small windows, usually at the top of the wall.
Interior of a Romanesque Cathedral Note the rounded arches and the small windows.
Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris
After the Romanesque period in architecture, around 1200 AD, most people began to build Christian churches and palaces in the Gothic style. The easiest difference to see between the two styles is that while Romanesque churches have round arches, Gothic churches have pointed arches. But there are a lot of other differences as well. Gothic cathedrals have lots of windows to let in more light so they are not as dark as Romanesque churches.
Interior of a Gothic Cathedral
They were able to do this because the architects found some new ways of building stone roofs that the walls could support. One of these was called the flying buttress. It was something outside the church that pushed against the wall so the building wouldnt fall over. Gothic churches are also usually bigger than Romanesque churches. By 1200 AD people had more money available, and they could afford to spend more on building great churches.
St. Etienne, Bourges, late 12 c Flying Buttresses
Gothic Floor Plans
Gothic Cathedral Architectural Style Began in France in the 12 c. Pointed arches. Flying buttresses. Stained glass windows. Elaborate, ornate interior. Taller, more airy lots of light. Lots of sculpture larger-than-life.
Gothic Filigree Closeups
Chartres Cathedral, Paris Many churches were very richly decorated, both inside and out. Here we see important figures in history and tales from the Bible.
Perhaps one of the most interesting features of Gothic architecture are the figures of the grotesques, the gargoyles. Although they fit every stereotype about evil creatures, they are instead guardians of the buildings which they sit. A gargoyle is actually a carved spout which takes water away from the sides of building just like a eves trough on a house. There are similar sculptures that do not carry away water and are and simply ornamental are called chimera. Nowadays it is common for both types of carvings to be referred to as gargoyles.
Stained Glass Windows The term stained glass can refer to the material of colored glass. Throughout its history, the term "stained glass" has been applied almost exclusively to the windows of churches, cathedrals, chapels, and other significant buildings. Stained glass, as an art form, reached its height in the Middle Ages when it became a major way to communicate using pictures about the Bible because most people couldnt read
A Rose window is often used as a generic term applied to a round window, but is especially used for those found in churches of the Gothic architectural style and being divided into segments by a dark frame. Rose Window
Rose WindowDesigns of Various Kinds Original Design Buddhist Mandala Labyrinth, 1200
Which Interior Is Which?
Illuminated Manuscripts An illuminated manuscript is a page from an old book where the words are surrounded by decorations fancy letters, borders and small pictures. These were made as a way of giving respect to ancient documents that help them survive during the periods just after Feudalism.
The Lady & the Unicorns, 1511 Medieval Tapestries from the Workshops in Flanders
Relinquary, late 12c Late Medieval Church Art Chalice, paten, and straw, mid-13c
St. Francis Rule Approved Giotto 1288-92? Tempera on wood and ground gold. Late Medieval Art
The Epiphany Giotto 1320 Tempera on wood and ground gold. Medieval Religious Themes
Giotto 1305 Tempera on wood and ground gold. The Crucifixion