The Majesty of the Gothic

The Gothic period in art and architecture – a time in which the heaviness and bulkiness typified by the Romanesque period was being shed away – had its earliest roots in medieval France.  With new and improved “technology,” the “theology” of church construction was also become more intricate.  As the website states about the transition to the Gothic-style church, “comme Dieu est lumière, son temple doit être translucide.”  The idea that the church – as a place of worship – should reflect and harbor the qualities of God might not be an innovation specific to the Gothic period, but the manner in which these changes occurred was quite revolutionary.  Consider the massive increases of stability and space with the advent of ribbed vaults and flying buttresses which define the Gothic.  Suddenly, a dark, heavy, and rather gloomy space becomes lifted and lightened.  Light pours through numerous vitraux , the magnificent colors illumining the inside of the church (fittingly taken from the light outside – which, though clear, is comprised of all colors).  Sounds and smokes soar about the vaulted ceiling; polyphonic choirs resound in the acoustics.  Needless to say, the architecture of the Gothic church is an extremely impressive feat of humankind.  These new ideas in art and architecture were not limited to the church, however, their spiritual nature resound throughout all forms:

“L’épanouissement des arts précieux atteint alors une ampleur sans précédent. Si bien que, dans l’imaginaire collectif, certaines des œuvres de cette époque ont fini par incarner, à elles-seules, l’idée que l’on se fait du Moyen Âge : le livre enluminé Les Très Riches Heures du duc de Berry (1404-1410) des frères de Limbourg”  (

Just like the new, light-permitting churches of the Gothic, Les Très Riches Heures display an astounding attention to detail and intricacy, and new methods to highlight theological ideas.  And, just like these churches, the manuscript is aptly called “illuminated.”  Bright blues and shiny golds line the pages of the prayer book.  The front page is seen below:

The meticulous precision of the astrological details of this front page of Les Très Riches Heures reflect the identical complexity of churches and cathedrals.  Yet, the Gothic does not merely represent a time period of extraordinary growth in architectural knowledge.  Rather, it represents a confluence of geometry, engineering, mathematics, philosophy, and theology – the physical and the spiritual – on levels never before seen.

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