Gothic architecture

Gothic architecture ' is an architectural style that flourished in Europe during the High and Late Middle Ages. It evolved from Romanesque architecture and was succeeded by Renaissance architecture. It originated in 12th-century northern France and England as a development of Norman architecture. Its popularity lasted into the 16th century, before which the style was known as lit=French work; the term Gothic'' was first applied during the later Renaissance.
The defining element of Gothic architecture is the pointed or ogival arch. It is the primary engineering innovation and the characteristic design component. The use of the pointed arch in turn led to the development of the pointed rib vault and flying buttresses, combined with elaborate tracery and stained glass windows. These elements together formed a structurally and aesthetically integrated system, or style, that characterises the Gothic.
At the Abbey of Saint-Denis, near Paris, the choir was reconstructed between 1140 and 1144, drawing together for the first time the developing Gothic architectural features. In doing so, a new architectural style emerged that internally emphasised verticality in the structural members, and the effect created by the transmission of light through stained glass windows.
Survivals of medieval Gothic architecture are most common as Christian ecclesiastical architecture, in the cathedrals, abbeys, and parish churches of Europe. It is also the architecture of many castles, palaces, town halls, guildhalls, universities and, less prominently today, private dwellings. Many of the finest examples of mediaeval Gothic architecture are listed with UNESCO as World Heritage Sites.
With the development of Renaissance architecture in Italy during the mid 15th century, the Gothic style was supplanted by the new style, but in some regions, notably England, Gothic continued to flourish and develop into the 16th century. A series of Gothic revivals began in mid-18th century England, spread through 19th-century Europe and continued, largely for ecclesiastical and university structures, into the 20th century.


Gothic architecture is also known as pointed architecture or ogival architecture. Mediaeval contemporaries described the style as lit=French work' or 'Franks, as lit=modern work, lit=new work, or as lit=German style.
The term "Gothic architecture" originated as a pejorative description. Giorgio Vasari used the term "barbarous German style" in his Lives of the Artists to describe what is now considered the Gothic style, and in the introduction to the Lives he attributes various architectural features to the Goths, whom he held responsible for destroying the ancient buildings after they conquered Rome, and erecting new ones in this style. When Vasari wrote, Italy had experienced a century of building in the Vitruvian architectural vocabulary of classical orders revived in the Renaissance and seen as evidence of a new Golden Age of learning and refinement. Vasari was echoed in the 16th century by François Rabelais, who referred to Goths and Ostrogoths.
The polymath architect Christopher Wren was disapproving of the name Gothic for pointed architecture. He compared it with Islamic architecture, which he called the 'Saracen style', pointing out that the pointed arch's sophistication was not owed to the Goths but to the Islamic Golden Age. He wrote:
According to a 19th-century correspondent in the London journal Notes and Queries, Gothic was a derisive misnomer; the pointed arcs and architecture of the later Middle Ages was quite different to the rounded arches prevalent in late antiquity and the period of the Ostrogothic Kingdom in Italy:
There can be no doubt that the term 'Gothic' as applied to pointed styles of ecclesiastical architecture was used at first contemptuously, and in derision, by those who were ambitious to imitate and revive the Grecian orders of architecture, after the revival of classical literature. But, without citing many authorities, such as Christopher Wren, and others, who lent their aid in depreciating the old mediaeval style, which they termed Gothic, as synonymous with every thing that was barbarous and rude, it may be sufficient to refer to the celebrated Treatise of Sir Henry Wotton, entitled The Elements of Architecture,... printed in London so early as 1624.... But it was a strange misapplication of the term to use it for the pointed style, in contradistinction to the circular, formerly called Saxon, now Norman, Romanesque, &c. These latter styles, like Lombardic, Italian, and the Byzantine, of course belong more to the Gothic period than the light and elegant structures of the pointed order which succeeded them.


Architecture "became a leading form of artistic expression during the late Middle Ages". Gothic architecture began in the earlier 12th century in northwest France and England and spread throughout Latin Europe in the 13th century; by 1300, a first "international style" of Gothic had developed, with common design features and formal language. A second "international style" emerged by 1400, alongside innovations in England and central Europe that produced both the perpendicular and flamboyant varieties. Typically, these typologies are identified as:

Early Gothic

Norman architecture on either side of the English Channel developed in parallel towards Early Gothic. Gothic features, such as the rib vault, had appeared in England and Normandy in the 11th century. Rib-vaults were employed in the cathedral at Durham and in Lessay Abbey in Normandy. However, the first buildings to be considered fully Gothic are the royal funerary abbey of the French kings, the Abbey of Saint-Denis, and the archiepiscopal cathedral at Sens They were the first buildings to systematically combine rib vaulting, buttresses, and pointed arches. Most of the characteristics of later Early English were already present in the lower chevet of Saint-Denis.
The Duchy of Normandy, part of the Angevin Empire until the 13th century, developed its own version of Gothic. One of these was the Norman chevet, a small apse or chapel attached to the choir at the east end of the church, which typically had a half-dome. The lantern tower was another common feature in Norman Gothic. One example of early Norman Gothic is Bayeux Cathedral where the Romanesque cathedral nave and choir were rebuilt into the Gothic style. Lisieux Cathedral was begun in 1170. Rouen Cathedral was rebuilt from Romanesque to Gothic with distinct Norman features, including a lantern tower, deeply moulded decoration, and high pointed arcades. Coutances Cathedral was remade into Gothic beginning about 1220. Its most distinctive feature is the octagonal lantern on the crossing of the transept, decorated with ornamental ribs, and surrounded by sixteen bays and sixteen lancet windows.
Saint-Denis was the work of the Abbot Suger, a close adviser of Kings Louis VI and Louis VII. Suger reconstructed portions of the old Romanesque church with the rib vault in order to remove walls and to make more space for windows. He described the new ambulatory as "a circular ring of chapels, by virtue of which the whole church would shine with the wonderful and uninterrupted light of most luminous windows, pervading the interior beauty." To support the vaults He also introduced columns with capitals of carved vegetal designs, modelled upon the classical columns he had seen in Rome. In addition, he installed a circular rose window over the portal on the facade. These also became a common feature of Gothic cathedrals.
The elements of Gothic style appeared very early in England. Durham Cathedral was the first cathedral to employ a rib vault, built between 1093 and 1104. The monk-historian William of Malmesbury wrote of the Norman style at the beginning of the 12th century, "you can see everywhere, in the churches in the cities and the monasteries in the villages and towns, being built a new type of construction and flourishing in a new modern style."
The first cathedral in France built entirely in the new style was Sens Cathedral, begun between 1135 and 1140 and consecrated in 1160. Sens Cathedral features a Gothic choir, and six-part rib vaults over the nave and collateral aisles, alternating pillars and doubled columns to support the vaults, and buttresses to offset the outward thrust from the vaults. One of the builders who is believed to have worked on Sens Cathedral, William of Sens, later travelled to England and became the architect who, between 1175 and 1180, reconstructed the choir of Canterbury Cathedral in the new Gothic style.
Sens Cathedral was influential in its strongly vertical appearance and in its three-part elevation, typical of subsequent Gothic buildings, with a clerestory at the top supported by a triforium, all carried on high arcades of pointed arches. In the following decades flying buttresses began to be used, allowing the construction of lighter, higher walls. French Gothic churches were heavily influenced both by the ambulatory and side-chapels around the choir at Saint-Denis, and by the paired towers and triple doors on the western façade.
Sens was quickly followed by Senlis Cathedral, and Notre-Dame de Paris. Their builders abandoned the traditional plans and introduced the new Gothic elements from Saint-Denis. The builders of Notre-Dame went further by introducing the flying buttress, heavy columns of support outside the walls connected by arches to the upper walls. The vaults received and counterbalanced the outward thrust from the rib vaults of the roof. This allowed the builders to construct higher walls and larger windows.

''Early English'' and ''High Gothic''

Following the destruction by fire of the choir of Canterbury Cathedral in 1174, a group of master builders was invited to propose plans for the reconstruction. The master-builder William of Sens, who had worked on Sens Cathedral, won the competition. Work began that same year, but in 1178 William was badly injured by fall from the scaffolding, and returned to France, where he died. His work was continued by William the Englishman who replaced his French namesake in 1178. The resulting structure of the choir of Canterbury Cathedral is considered the first work Early English Gothic. The cathedral churches of Worcester, Wells, Lincoln, and Salisbury are all, with Canterbury, major examples. Tiercerons – decorative vaulting ribs – seem first to be have been used in vaulting at Lincoln Cathedral, installed c.1200. Instead of a triforium, Early English churches usually retained a gallery.
High Gothic was a brief but very productive period, which produced some of the great landmarks of Gothic art. The first building in the High Gothic was Chartres Cathedral, an important pilgrimage church south of Paris. The Romanesque cathedral was destroyed by fire in 1194, but was swiftly rebuilt in the new style, with contributions from King Philip II of France, Pope Celestine III local gentry, merchants and craftsmen and Richard the Lionheart, king of England. The builders simplified the elevation used at Notre Dame, eliminated the tribune galleries, and used flying buttresses to support the upper walls. The walls were filled with stained glass, mainly depicting the story of the Virgin Mary but also, in a small corner of each window, illustrating the crafts of the guilds who donated those windows.
The model of Chartres was followed by a series of new cathedrals of unprecedented height and size. These were Rheims Cathedral, where coronations of the kings of France took place; Amiens Cathedral ; Bourges Cathedral ; and Beauvais Cathedral.
In central Europe, the High Gothic style appeared in the Holy Roman Empire, first at Toul, whose Romanesque cathedral was rebuilt in the style of Rheims Cathedral; then Trier's Liebfrauenkirche parish church, and then throughout the Reich, beginning with the Elisabethkirche at Marburg and the cathedral at Metz.
In High Gothic, the whole surface of the clerestory was given over to windows. At Chartres Cathedral, plate tracery was used for the rose window, but at Rheims the bar-tracery was free-standing. Lancet windows were supplanted by multiple lights separated by geometrical bar-tracery. Tracery of this kind distinguishes Middle Pointed style from the simpler First Pointed. Inside, the nave was divided into by regular bays, each covered by a quadripartite rib vaults.
Other characteristics of the High Gothic were the development of rose windows of greater size, using bar-tracery, higher and longer flying buttresses, which could reach up to the highest windows, and walls of sculpture illustrating biblical stories filling the facade and the fronts of the transept. Rheims Cathedral had two thousand three hundred statues on the front and back side of the facade.
The new High Gothic churches competed to be the tallest, with increasingly ambitious structures lifting the vault yet higher. Chartres Cathedral's 36 meter height was exceeded by Beauvais Cathedral's 48 meters, but on account of the latter's collapse in 1248, no further attempt was made to build higher. Attention turned from achieving greater height to creating more awe-inspiring decoration.

''Rayonnant Gothic'' and ''Decorated Style''

Rayonnant Gothic maximised the coverage of stained glass windows such that the walls are effectively entirely glazed; notable examples are the nave of Saint-Denis and the royal chapel of Louis IX of France on the Île de la Cité in the Seine – the Sainte-Chapelle. The high and thin walls of French Rayonnant Gothic allowed by the flying buttresses enabled increasingly ambitious expanses of glass and decorated tracery, reinforced with ironwork. Shortly after Saint-Denis, in the 1250s, Louis IX commissioned the rebuilt transepts and enormous rose windows of Notre-Dame de Paris. This first 'international style' was also used in the clerestory of Metz Cathedral, then in the choir of Cologne's cathedral, and again in the nave of the cathedral at Strasbourg. Masons elaborated a series of tracery patterns for windows – from the basic geometrical to the reticulated and the curvilinear – which had superseded the lancet window. Bar-tracery of the curvilinear, flowing, and reticulated types distinguish Second Pointed style.
Decorated Gothic similarly sought to emphasise the windows, but excelled in the ornamentation of their tracery. Churches with features of this style include Westminster Abbey, the cathedrals at Lichfield and Exeter, Bath Abbey, and the retro choir at Wells Cathedral.
The Rayonnant developed its second 'international style' with increasingly autonomous and sharp-edged tracery mouldings apparent in the cathedral at Clermont-Ferrand, the papal collegiate church at Troyes, Saint-Urbain, and the west façade of Strasbourg Cathedral. By 1300, there were examples influenced by Strasbourg in the cathedrals of Limoges, Regensburg, and in the cathedral nave at York.

''Late Gothic'': ''flamboyant'' and ''perpendicular''

Central Europe began to lead the emergence of a new, international flamboyant style with the construction of a new cathedral at Prague under the direction of Peter Parler. This model of rich and variegated tracery and intricate reticulated rib-vaulting was definitive in the Late Gothic of continental Europe, emulated not only by the collegiate churches and cathedrals, but by urban parish churches which rivalled them in size and magnificence. The minster at Ulm and other parish churches like the Heilig-Kreuz-Münster at Schwäbisch Gmünd, St Barbara's Church at Kutná Hora, and the Heilig-Geist-Kirche and St Martin's Church in Landshut are typical. Use of ogees was especially common.

The flamboyant style was characterised by the multiplication of the ribs of the vaults, with new purely decorative ribs, called tiercons and liernes, and additional diagonal ribs. One common ornament of flamboyant in France is the arc-en-accolade, an arch over a window topped by a pinnacle, which was itself topped with fleuron, and flanked by other pinnacles. Notable examples of French flamboyant building include the west façade of Rouen Cathedral, and especially the façades of Sainte-Chapelle de Vincennes and choir Mont-Saint-Michel's abbey church.
In England, ornamental rib-vaulting and tracery of Decorated Gothic co-existed with, and then gave way to, the perpendicular style from the 1320s, with straightened, orthogonal tracery topped with fan-vaulting. Perpendicular Gothic was unknown in continental Europe and unlike earlier styles had no equivalent in Scotland or Ireland. It first appeared in the cloisters and chapter-house of Old St Paul's Cathedral in London by William de Ramsey. The chancel of Gloucester Cathedral and its latter 14th century cloisters are early examples. Four-centred arches were often used, and lierne vaults seen in early buildings were developed into fan vaults, first at the latter 14th century chapter-house of Hereford Cathedral and cloisters at Gloucester, and then at Reginald Ely's King's College Chapel, Cambridge and the brothers William and Robert Vertue's Henry VII Chapel at Westminster Abbey. Perpendicular is sometimes called Third Pointed and was employed over three centuries; the fan-vaulted staircase at Christ Church, Oxford built around 1640.
Lacey patterns of tracery continued to characterise continental Gothic building, with very elaborate and articulated vaulting, as at St Barbara's, Kutná Hora. In certain areas, Gothic architecture continued to be employed until the 17th and 18th centuries, especially in provincial and ecclesiastical contexts, notably at Oxford. Though fallen from favour from the Renaissance on, Gothic architecture survived the early modern period and flourished again in a revival from the late 18th century and throughout the 19th. Perpendicular was the first Gothic style revived in the 18th century.



At the end of the 12th century, Europe was divided into a multitude of city states and kingdoms. The area encompassing modern Germany, southern Denmark, the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, Switzerland, Austria, Slovakia, Czech Republic and much of northern Italy was nominally part of the Holy Roman Empire, but local rulers exercised considerable autonomy. France, Denmark, Poland, Hungary, Portugal, Scotland, Castile, Aragon, Navarre, and Cyprus were independent kingdoms, as was the Angevin Empire, whose Plantagenet kings ruled England and large domains in what was to become modern France. Norway came under the influence of England, while the other Scandinavian countries and Poland were influenced by trading contacts with the Hanseatic League. Angevin kings brought the Gothic tradition from France to Southern Italy, part of the Norman Kingdom of Sicily, while after the First Crusade the Lusignan kings introduced French Gothic architecture to Cyprus and the Kingdom of Jerusalem.
Throughout Europe at this time there was a rapid growth in trade and an associated growth in towns. Germany and the Lowlands had large flourishing towns that grew in comparative peace, in trade and competition with each other, or united for mutual weal, as in the Hanseatic League. Civic building was of great importance to these towns as a sign of wealth and pride. England and France remained largely feudal and produced grand domestic architecture for their kings, dukes and bishops, rather than grand town halls for their burghers.


The Roman Catholic Church prevailed across Western Europe at this time, influencing not only faith but also wealth and power. Bishops were appointed by the feudal lords and they often ruled as virtual princes over large estates. The early mediaeval periods had seen a rapid growth in monasticism, with several different orders being prevalent and spreading their influence widely. Foremost were the Benedictines whose great abbey churches vastly outnumbered any others in France, Normandy and England. A part of their influence was that towns developed around them and they became centres of culture, learning and commerce. They were the builders of the Abbey of Saint-Denis, and Abbey of Saint-Remi in France. Later Benedictine projects include Rouen's Abbey of Saint-Ouen, the Abbey La Chaise-Dieu, and the choir of Mont Saint-Michel in France. English examples are Westminster Abbey, originally built as a Benedictine order monastic church; and the reconstruction of the Benedictine church at Canterbury.
The Cluniac and Cistercian Orders were prevalent in France, the great monastery at Cluny having established a formula for a well planned monastic site which was then to influence all subsequent monastic building for many centuries. The Cistercians spread the style as far east and south as Poland and Hungary. Smaller orders such as the Carthusians and Premonstratensians also built some 200 churches, usually near cities.
In the 13th century Francis of Assisi established the Franciscans, or so-called "Grey Friars", a mendicant order. Saint Dominic founded the mendicant Dominicans, in Toulouse and Bologna, were particularly influential in the building of Italy's Gothic churches.
The Teutonic Order, a military order, spread Gothic art into Pomerania, East Prussia, and the Baltic region.


From the 10th to the 13th century, Romanesque architecture had become a pan-European style and manner of construction, affecting buildings in countries as far apart as Ireland, Croatia, Sweden and Sicily. The same wide geographic area was then affected by the development of Gothic architecture, but the acceptance of the Gothic style and methods of construction differed from place to place, as did the expressions of Gothic taste. The proximity of some regions meant that modern country borders do not define divisions of style. On the other hand, some regions such as England and Spain produced defining characteristics rarely seen elsewhere, except where they have been carried by itinerant craftsmen, or the transfer of bishops. Regional differences that are apparent in the churches of the Romanesque period often become even more apparent in the Gothic.
The local availability of materials affected both construction and style. In France, limestone was readily available in several grades, the very fine white limestone of Caen being favoured for sculptural decoration. England had coarse limestone and red sandstone as well as dark green Purbeck marble which was often used for architectural features.
In Northern Germany, Netherlands, northern Poland, Denmark, and the Baltic countries local building stone was unavailable but there was a strong tradition of building in brick. The resultant style, Brick Gothic, is called "Backsteingotik" in Germany and Scandinavia and is associated with the Hanseatic League. In Italy, stone was used for fortifications, but brick was preferred for other buildings. Because of the extensive and varied deposits of marble, many buildings were faced in marble, or were left with undecorated façade so that this might be achieved at a later date.
The availability of timber also influenced the style of architecture, with timber buildings prevailing in Scandinavia. Availability of timber affected methods of roof construction across Europe. It is thought that the magnificent hammer-beam roofs of England were devised as a direct response to the lack of long straight seasoned timber by the end of the mediaeval period, when forests had been decimated not only for the construction of vast roofs but also for ship building.

Romanesque tradition

Gothic architecture grew out of the previous architectural genre, Romanesque. For the most part, there was not a clean break, as there was to be later in Renaissance Florence with the revival of the Classical style in the early 15th century.
By the 12th century, builders throughout Europe developed Romanesque architectural styles. Scholars have focused on categories of Romanesque/Norman building, including the cathedral church, the parish church, the abbey church, the monastery, the castle, the palace, the great hall, the gatehouse, the civic building, the warehouse, and others.
Many architectural features that are associated with Gothic architecture had been developed and used by the architects of Romanesque buildings, particularly in the building of cathedrals and abbey churches. These include ribbed vaults, buttresses, clustered columns, ambulatories, wheel windows, spires, stained glass windows, and richly carved door tympana. These were already features of ecclesiastical architecture before the development of the Gothic style, and all were to develop in increasingly elaborate ways.
It was principally the widespread introduction of a single feature, the pointed arch, which was to bring about the change that separates Gothic from Romanesque. This technological change permitted both structural and stylistic change which broke the tradition of massive masonry and solid walls penetrated by small openings, replacing it with a style where light appears to triumph over substance. With its use came the development of many other architectural devices, previously put to the test in scattered buildings and then called into service to meet the structural, aesthetic and ideological needs of the new style. These include the flying buttresses, pinnacles and traceried windows which typify Gothic ecclesiastical architecture., Syria |alt=
, Syria
, Sicily |alt=

Oriental influence

The pointed arch, one of the defining attributes of Gothic, appears in Late Roman Byzantine architecture and the Sasanian architecture of Iran during late antiquity, although the form had been used earlier, as in the possibly 1st century AD Temple of Bel, Dura Europos in Roman Mesopotamia. In the Roman context it occurred in church buildings in Syria and occasional secular structures, like the Karamagara Bridge in modern Turkey. In Sassanid architecture parabolic and pointed arches were employed in both palace and sacred construction. A very slightly pointed arch built in 549 exists in the apse of the Basilica of Sant'Apollinare in Classe in Ravenna, and slightly more pointed example from a church, built 564 at Qasr Ibn Wardan in Roman Syria. Pointed arches' development may have been influenced by the elliptical and parabolic arches frequently employed in Sasanian buildings using pitched brick vaulting, which obviated any need for wooden centring and which had for millennia been used in Mesopotamia and Syria. The oldest pointed arches in Islamic architecture are in the Dome of the Rock, completed in 691/2, while some others appear in the Great Mosque of Damascus, begun in 705. The Umayyads were responsible for the oldest significantly pointed arches in medieval western Europe, employing them alongside horseshoe arches in the Great Mosque of Cordoba, built from 785 and repeatedly extended. The Abbasid palace at al-Ukhaidir employed pointed arches in 778 as a dominant theme both structural and decorative throughout the façades and vaults of the complex, while the tomb of al-Muntasir, built 862, employed a dome with a pointed arch profile. Abbasid Samarra had many pointed arches, notably its surviving Bab al-ʿAmma. By the 9th century the pointed arch was used in Egypt and North Africa: in the Nilometer at Fustat in 861, the 876 Mosque of Ibn Tulun in Cairo, and the 870s Great Mosque of Kairouan. Through the 8th and 9th centuries, the pointed arch was employed as standard in secular buildings in architecture throughout the Islamic world. The 10th century Aljafería at Zaragoza displays numerous forms of arch, including many pointed arches decorated and elaborated to a level of design sophistication not seen in Gothic architecture for a further two centuries.
Increasing military and cultural contacts with the Muslim world, including the Norman conquest of Islamic Sicily between 1060 and 1090, the Crusades, beginning 1096, and the Islamic presence in Spain, may have influenced mediaeval Europe's adoption of the pointed arch, although this hypothesis remains controversial. The structural advantages of pointed arches seems first to have been realised in a medieval Latin Christian context at the abbey church known as Cluny III at Cluny Abbey. Begun by abbot Hugh of Cluny in 1089, the great Romanesque church of Cluny III was the largest church in the west when completed in 1130. Kenneth John Conant, who excavated the site of the church's ruins, argued that the architectural innovations of Cluny III were inspired by the Islamic architecture of Sicily via Monte Cassino. The Abbey of Monte Cassino was the foundational community of the Benedictine Order and lay within the Norman Kingdom of Sicily, which at that time was majority Muslim and predominantly Arabic-speaking. The rib vault with pointed arches was used at Lessay Abbey in Normandy in 1098, and at Durham Cathedral in England at about the same time. In those parts of the Western Mediterranean subject to Islamic control or influence, rich regional variants arose, fusing Romanesque, Byzantine and later Gothic traditions with Islamic decorative forms, as seen, for example, in Monreale and Cefalù Cathedrals, the Alcázar of Seville, and Teruel Cathedral.

Structural elements

Pointed arches

One of the common characteristics the Gothic style is the pointed arch, which was widely used both in structure and decoration. The pointed arch did not originate in Gothic architecture; they had been employed for centuries in the Near East in pre-Islamic as well as Islamic architecture for arches, arcades, and ribbed vaults. In Gothic architecture, particularly in the later Gothic styles, they became the most visible and characteristic element, giving a sensation of verticality and pointing upward, like the spires. Gothic rib vaults covered the nave, and pointed arches were commonly used for the arcades, windows, doorways, in the tracery, and especially in the later Gothic styles decorating the façades. They were also sometimes used for more practical purposes, such as to bring transverse vaults to the same height as diagonal vaults, as in the nave and aisles of Durham Cathedral, built in 1093.
The earliest Gothic pointed arches were lancet lights or lancet windows, narrow windows terminating in a lancet arch, an arch with a radius longer than their breadth and resembling the blade of a lancet. In the 12th century First Pointed phase of Gothic architecture, also called the Lancet style and before the introduction of tracery in the windows in later styles, lancet windows predominated Gothic building.
The Flamboyant Gothic style was particularly known for such lavish pointed details as the arc-en-accolade, where the pointed arch over a doorway was topped by a pointed sculptural ornament called a fleuron and by pointed pinnacles on either side. the arches of the doorway were further decorated with small cabbage-shaped sculptures called "chou-frisés".

Rib vault

The Gothic rib vault was one of the essential elements that made possible the great height and large windows of the Gothic style. Unlike the semi-circular barrel vault vault of Roman and Romanesque buildings, where the weight pressed directly downward, and required thick walls and small windows, the Gothic rib vault was made of diagonal crossing arched ribs. These ribs directed the thrust outwards to the corners of the vault, and downwards via slender colonettes and bundled columns, to the pillars and columns below. The space between the ribs was filled with thin panels of small pieces of stone, which were much lighter than earlier groin vaults. The outward thrust against the walls was countered by the weight of buttresses and later flying buttresses. As a result, the massive thick walls of Romanesque buildings were no longer needed; Since the vaults were supported by the columns and piers, the walls could be thinner and higher, and filled with windows.
The earlier Gothic rib vaults, used at Sens Cathedral and Notre-Dame de Paris, were divided by the ribs into six compartments. They were very difficult to build, and could only cross a limited space. Since each vault covered two bays, they needed support on the ground floor from alternating columns and piers. In later construction, the design was simplified, and the rib vaults had only four compartments. The alternating rows of alternating columns and piers receiving the weight of the vaults was replaced by simple pillars, each receiving the same weight. A single vault could cross the nave. This method was used at Chartres Cathedral, Amiens Cathedral, and Reims Cathedral. The four-part vaults made it possible for the building to be even higher. Notre-Dame de Paris, begun in 1163 with six-part vaults, reached a height of 35 meters, remarkable for the time. Amiens Cathedral, begun in 1220 with the newer four-part ribs, reached the height of 42.30 meters at the transept.

Columns and piers

In Early French Gothic architecture, the capitals of the columns were modeled after Roman columns of the Corinthian order, with finely-sculpted leaves. They were used in the ambulatory of the Abbey church of Saint-Denis. According to its builder, the Abbot Suger, they were inspired by the columns he had seen in the ancient baths in Rome. They were used later at Sens, at Notre-Dame de Paris and at Canterbury in England.
In early Gothic churches with six-part rib vaults, the columns in the nave alternated with more massive piers to provide support for the vaults. With the introduction of the four-part rib vault, all of the piers or columns in the nave could have the same design. In the High Gothic period, a new form was introduced, composed of a central core surrounded several attached slender columns, or colonettes, going up to the vaults. These clustered columns were used at Chartres, Amiens, Reims and Bourges, Westminster Abbey and Salisbury Cathedral. Another variation was a quadrilobe column, shaped like a clover, formed of four attached columns.. In England, the clustered columns were often ornamented with stone rings, as well as columns with carved leaves.
Later styles added further variations. Sometimes the piers were rectangular and fluted, as at Seville Cathedral, In England, parts of columns sometimes had contrasting colours, using combining white stone with dark Purbeck marble. In place of the Corinthian capital, some columns used a stiff-leaf design. In later Gothic, the piers became much taller, reaching up more than half of the nave. Another variation, particularly popular in eastern France, was a column without a capital, which continued upward without capitals or other interruption, all the way to the vaults, giving a dramatic display of verticality.

Flying buttresses

An important feature of Gothic architecture was the flying buttress, a half-arch outside the building which carried the thrust of weight of the roof or vaults inside over a roof or an aisle to a heavy stone column. The buttresses were placed in rows on either side of the building, and were often topped by heavy stone pinnacles, both to give extra weight and for additional decoration.
Buttresses had existed since Roman times, usually set directly against the building, but the Gothic vaults were more sophisticated. In later structures, the buttresses often had several arches, each reaching in to a different level of the structure. The buttresses permitted the buildings to be both taller, and to have thinner walls, with greater space for windows.
Over time, the buttresses and pinnacles became more elaborate supporting statues and other decoration, as at Beauvais Cathedral and Rheims Cathedral. The arches had an additional practical purpose; they contained lead channels which carried rainwater off the roof; it was expelled from the mouths of stone gargoyles placed in rows on the buttresses.
Flying buttresses were used less frequently in England, where the emphasis was more on length than height. One notable example of English buttresses was Canterbury Cathedral, whose choir and buttresses were rebuilt in Gothic style by William of Sens and William the Englishman. However, they were very popular in Germany: in Cologne Cathedral the buttresses were lavishly decorated with statuary and other ornament, and were a prominent feature of the exterior.
from the south west – façade towers 12th–15th century, the flamboyant tower to 15th century, spire rebuilt in 16th century

Towers and spires

Towers, spires and fleches were an important feature of Gothic churches. They presented a dramatic spectacle of great height, helped make their churches the tallest and most visible buildings in their city, and symbolised the aspirations of their builders toward heaven. They also had a practical purpose; they often served as bell towers supporting belfries, whose bells told the time by announcing religious services, warned of fire or enemy attack, and celebrated special occasions like military victories and coronations. Sometimes the bell tower is built separate from a church; the best-known example of this is the Leaning Tower of Pisa.
The towers of cathedrals were usually the last part of the structure to be built. Since cathedral construction usually took many years,and was extremely expensive, by the time the tower were to be built public enthusiasm waned, and tastes changed. Many projected towers were never built, or were built in different styles than other parts of the cathedral, or with different styles on each level of the tower. At Chartres Cathedral, the south tower was built in the 12th century, in the simpler Early Gothic, while the north tower is the more highly decorated Flamboyant style. Chartres would have been even more exuberant if the second plan had been followed; it called for seven towers around the transept and sanctuary.
In the Ile-de-France, cathedral towers followed the Romanesque tradition of two identical towers, one on either side of the portals. The west front of the Saint-Denis, became the model for the early Gothic cathedrals and High Gothic cathedrals in northern France, including Notre-Dame de Paris, Reims Cathedral, and Amiens Cathedral.
The early and High Gothic Laon Cathedral features a square lantern tower over the crossing of the transept; two towers on the western front; and two towers on the ends of the transepts. Laon's towers, with the exception of the central tower, are built with two stacked vaulted chambers pierced by lancet openings. The two western towers contain life-size stone statues of sixteen oxen in their upper arcades, said to honour the animals who hauled the stone during the cathedral's construction.
In Normandy, Cathedrals and major churches often had multiple towers, built over the centuries; the Abbaye aux Hommes, Caen has nine towers and spires, placed on the facade, the transepts, and the centre. A lantern tower was often placed the centre of the nave, at the meeting point with the transept, to give light to the church below.
In later periods of Gothic, pointed needle-like spires were often added to the towers, giving them much greater height. A variation of the spire was the fleche, a slender, spear=like spire, which was usually placed on the transept where it crossed the nave. They were often made of wood covered with lead or other metal. They sometimes had open frames, and were decorated with sculpture. Amiens Cathedral has a notable flèche. The most famous example was that of Notre-Dame de Paris. The original flèche of Notre-Dame was built on the crossing of the transept in the middle of the 13th century, and housed five bells. It was removed in 1786 during a program to modernise the cathedral, but was put back in a new form designed by Eugène Viollet-le-Duc. The new flèche, of wood covered with lead, was decorated with statues of the Apostles; the figure of St Thomas resembled Viollet-le-Duc. The flèche was destroyed in the 2019 fire, but is being restored in the same design.
In English Gothic, the major tower was often placed at the crossing of the transept and nave, and was much higher than the other. The most famous example is the tower of Salisbury Cathedral, completed in 1320 by William of Farleigh. It was a remarkable feat of construction, since it was built upon the pillars of the much earlier church. A crossing tower was constructed at Canterbury Cathedral in 1493-1501 by John Wastell, who had previously worked on King's College at Cambridge. It was finished by Henry Yevele, who also built the present nave of Canterbury. The new central tower at Wells Cathedral caused a problem; it was too heavy for the original structure. An unusual double arch had to be constructed in the centre of the crossing to give the tower the extra support it needed.
England's Gothic parish churches and collegiate churches generally have a single western tower. A number of the finest churches have masonry spires, with those of St James Church, Louth; St Wulfram's Church, Grantham; St Mary Redcliffe in Bristol; and Coventry Cathedral. These spires all exceed 85 metres in height.
Westminster Abbey's crossing tower has for centuries remained unbuilt, and numerous architects have proposed various ways of completing it since the 1250s, when work began on the tower under Henry III. A century and half later, an octagonal roof lantern resembling that of Ely Cathedral was installed instead, which was then demolished in the 16th century. Construction began again in 1724 to the design of Nicholas Hawksmoor, after first Christopher Wren had proposed a design in 1710, but stopped again in 1727. The crossing remains covered by the stub of the lantern and a 'temporary' roof.
Later Gothic towers in Central Europe often followed the French model, but added even denser decorative tracery. Cologne Cathedral had been started in the 13th century, following the plan of Amiens Cathedral, but only the apse and the base of one tower were finished in the Gothic period. The original plans were conserved and rediscovered in 1817, and the building was completed in the 20th century following the origin design. It has two spectacularly ornamented towers, covered with arches, gables, pinancles and openwork spires pointing upwards. The tower of Ulm Minster has a similar history, begun in 1377, stopped in 1543, and not completed until the 19th century.
Regional variants of Gothic towers appeared in Spain and Italy. The tower of Seville Cathedral, called the Giralda, was part of what was then the largest cathedral in Europe. Burgos Cathedral was more inspired by Northern Europe. It has an exceptional cluster of openwork spires, towers, and pinnacles, drenched with ornament. It was begun in 1444 by a German architect, Juan de Colonia and eventually completed by a central tower built by his grandson.
In Italy the towers were sometimes separate from the cathedral; and the architects usually kept their distance from the Northern European style. the leaning tower of Pisa Cathedral, built between 1173 and 1372, is the best-known example. The The Campanile of Florence Cathedral was built by Giotto in the Florentine Gothic style, decorated with encrustations of polychrome marble. It was originally designed to have a spire.


Tracery is an architectural solution by which windows are divided into sections of various proportions by stone bars or ribs of moulding. Pointed arch windows of Gothic buildings were initially lancet windows, a solution typical of the Early Gothic or First Pointed style and of the Early English Gothic. Plate tracery was the first type of tracery to be developed, emerging in the later phase of Early Gothic or First Pointed. Second Pointed is distinguished from First by the appearance of bar–tracery, allowing the construction of much larger window openings, and the development of Curvilinear, Flowing, and Reticulated tracery, ultimately contributing to the Flamboyant style. Late Gothic in most of Europe saw tracery patterns resembling lace develop, while in England Perpendicular Gothic or Third Pointed preferred plainer vertical mullions and transoms. Tracery is practical as well as decorative, because the increasingly large windows of Gothic buildings needed maximum support against the wind.
Plate tracery, in which lights were pierced in a thin wall of ashlar, allowed a window arch to have more than one light – typically two side-by-side and separated by flat stone spandrels. The spandrels were then sculpted into figures like a roundel or a quatrefoil. Plate tracery reached the height of its sophistication with the 12th century windows of Chartres Cathedral and in the "Dean's Eye" rose window at Lincoln Cathedral.
At the beginning of the 13th century, plate tracery was superseded by bar-tracery. Bar-tracery divides the large lights from one another with moulded mullions. Bar-tracery, an important decorative element of Gothic styles, appeared first at Rheims and was employed in England around 1240. After 1220, master builders in England had begun to treat the window openings as a series of openings divided by thin stone bars, while before 1230 the apse chapels of Reims Cathedral were decorated with bar-tracery with cusped circles. Bar-tracery became common after c.1240, with increasing complexity and decreasing weight. The lines of the mullions continued beyond the tops of the window lights and subdivided the open spandrels above the lights into a variety of decorative shapes. Rayonnant style was enabled by the development of bar-tracery in Continental Europe and is named for the radiation of lights around a central point in circular rose windows. Rayonnant also deployed mouldings of two different types in tracery, where earlier styles had used moulding of a single size, with different sizes of mullions. The rose windows of Notre-Dame de Paris are typical.
The early phase of Middle Pointed style is characterized by Geometrical tracery – simple bar-tracery forming patterns of foiled arches and circles interspersed with triangular lights. The mullions of Geometrical style typically had capitals with curved bars emerging from them. Intersecting bar-tracery deployed mullions without capitals which branched off equidistant to the window-head. The window-heads themselves were formed of equal curves forming a pointed arch and the tracery-bars were curved by drawing curves with differing radii from the same centres as the window-heads. The mullions were in consequence branched into Y-shaped designs further ornamented with cusps. The intersecting branches produced an array of lozenge-shaped lights in between numerous lancet arched lights.Y-tracery was often employed in two-light windows c.1300.
Second Pointed saw Intersecting tracery elaborated with ogees, creating a complex reticular design known as Reticulated tracery. Second Pointed architecture deployed tracery in highly decorated fashion known as Curvilinear and Flowing. These types of bar-tracery were developed further throughout Europe in the 15th century into the Flamboyant style, named for the characteristic flame-shaped spaces between the tracery-bars. These shapes are known as daggers, fish-bladders, or mouchettes.
Third Pointed or Perpendicular Gothic developed in England from the later 14th century and is typified by Rectilinear tracery. The mullions are often joined together by transoms and continue up their straight vertical lines to the top of the window's main arch, some branching off into lesser arches, and creating a series of panel-like lights. Perpendicular strove for verticality and dispensed with the Curvilinear style's sinuous lines in favour of unbroken straight mullions from top to bottom, transected by horizontal transoms and bars. Four-centred arches were used in the 15th and 16th centuries to create windows of increasing size with flatter window-heads, often filling the entire wall of the bay between each buttress. The windows were themselves divided into panels of lights topped by pointed arches struck from four centres. The transoms were often topped by miniature crenallations. The windows at Cambridge of King's College Chapel represent the heights of Perpendicular tracery.
Tracery could also be found on the interior of buildings, covering the walls with overlaid tracery forming blind arcades. Tracery was also used for decorating the exterior: at Strasbourg Cathedral the west front is ornamented with elaborate bar tracery.

Transition from Romanesque to Gothic architecture

Elements of Romanesque and Gothic architecture compared


The plan of Gothic cathedrals and churches was usually based on the Latin cross plan, taken from the ancient Roman Basilica.,and from the later Romanesque churches. They have a long nave making the body of the church, where the parishioners worshipped; a transverse arm called the transept and, beyond it to the east, the choir, also known as a chancel or presbytery, that was usually reserved for the clergy. The eastern end of the church was rounded in French churches, and was occupied by several radiating chapels, which allowed multiple ceremonies to go on simultaneously. In English churches the eastern end also had chapels, but was usually rectangular. A passage called the ambulatory circled the choir. This allowed parishioners, and especially pilgrims, to walk past the chapels to see the relics displayed there without disturbing other services going on.
Each vault of the nave formed a separate cell, with its own supporting piers or columns. The early cathedrals, like Notre-Dame, had six=part rib vaults, with alternating columns and piers, while later cathedrals had the simpler and stronger four-part vaults, with identical columns.
Following the model of Romanesque architecture and the Basilica of Saint Denis, cathedrals usual had two towers flanking the west facade. Towers over the crossing were common in England but rarer in France.
Transepts were ususally short in early French Gothic architecture, but became longer and were given large rose windows in the Rayonnant period. The choirs became more important. The choir was often flanked by a double disambulatory, which was crowned by a ring of small chapels. In England, transepts were more important, and the floor plans were usually much more complex than in French cathedrals, with the addition of attached Lady Chapels, an octagonal Chapter House, and other structures. This reflected a tendency in France to carry out multiple functions in the same space, while English cathedrals compartmentalised them. This contrast is visible in the difference between Amiens Cathedral, with its minimal transepts and semicircular apse, filled with chapels, on the east end, compared with the double transepts, projecting north porch, and rectangular east end of Salisbury and York.

Elevations and the search for height

Gothic architecture was a continual search for greater height, thinner walls, and more light. This was clearly illustrated in the evolving elevations of the cathedrals.
In Early Gothic architecture, following the model of the Romanesque churches, the buildings had thick, solid walls with a minimum of windows in order to give enough support for the vaulted roofs. An elevation typically had four levels. On the ground floor was an arcade with massive piers alternating with thinner columns, which supported the six-part rib vaults. Above that was a gallery, called the tribune, which provided stability to the walls, and was sometimes used to provide seating for the nuns. Above that was a narrower gallery, called the triforium, which also helped provide additional thickness and support. At the top, just beneath the vaults, was the clerestory, where the high windows were placed. The upper level was supported from the outside by the flying buttresses. This system was used at Noyon Cathedral, Sens Cathedral, and other early structures.
In the High Gothic period, thanks to the introduction of the four part rib vault, a simplified elevation appeared at Chartres Cathedral and others. The alternating piers and columns on the ground floor were replaced by rows of identical circular piers wrapped in four engaged columns. The tribune disappeared, which meant that the arcades could be higher. This created more space at the top for the upper windows, which were expanded to include a smaller circular window above a group of lancet windows. The new walls gave a stronger sense of verticality and brought in more light. A similar arrangement was adapted in England, at Salisbury Cathedral, Lincoln Cathedral, and Ely Cathedral.
An important characteristic of Gothic church architecture is its height, both absolute and in proportion to its width, the verticality suggesting an aspiration to Heaven. The increasing height of cathedrals over the Gothic period was accompanied by an increasing proportion of the wall devoted to windows, until, by the late Gothic, the interiors became like cages of glass. This was made possible by the development of the flying buttress, which transferred the thrust of the weight of the roof to the supports outside the walls. As a result, the walls gradually became thinner and higher, and masonry was replaced with glass. The four-part elevation of the naves of early Cathedrals such as Notre-Dame was transformed in the choir of Beauvais Cathedral to very tall arcades, a thin triforium, and soaring windows up to the roof.
Beauvais Cathedral reached the limit of what was possible with Gothic technology. A portion of the choir collapsed in 1284, causing alarm in all of the cities with very tall cathedrals. Panels of experts were created in Sienna and Chartres to study the stability of those structures. Only the transept and choir of Beauvais were completed, and in the 21st century, the transept walls were reinforced with cross-beams. No cathedral built since exceeded the height of the choir of Beauvais.

West Front or Facade

Gothic cathedrals traditionally faced west, with the altar on the east, and the west front, or facade, was considered the most important entrance. Gothic facades were adapted from the model of the Romanesque facades. The facades usually had three portals, or doorways, leading into the nave. Over each doorway was a tympanum, a work of sculpture crowded with figures. The sculpture of the central tympanum was devoted to the Last Judgement, that to the left to the Virgin Mary, and that to the right to the Saints honoured at that particular cathedral. In the early Gothic, the columns of the doorways took the form of statues of saints, making them literally "pillars of the church".
In the early Gothic, the facades were characterized by height, elegance, harmony, unity, and a balance of proportions. They followed the doctrine expressed by Saint Thomas Aquinas that beauty was a "harmony of contrasts." Following the model of Saint-Denis and later Notre-Dame de Paris, the facade was flanked by two towers proportional to the rest of the facade, which balanced the horizontal and vertical elements. Early Gothic facades often had a small rose window placed above the central portal. In England the rose window was often replaced by several lancet windows.
In the High Gothic period, the facades grew higher, and had more dramatic architecture and sculpture. At Amiens Cathedral, the porches were deeper, the niches and pinnacles were more prominent. The portals were crowned with high arched gables, composed of concentric arches filled with sculpture. The rose windows became enormous, filling an entirely wall above the central portal, and they were themselves covered with a large pointed arch. The rose windows were pushed upwards by the growing profusion of decoration below. The towers were adorned with their own arches, often crowned with pinacles. The towers themselves were crowned with spires, often of open-work sculpture. One of the finest examples of a Flamboyant facade is Notre-Dame de l'Épine.
While French cathedrals emphasised the height of the facade, English cathedrals, particularly in earlier Gothic, often emphasised the width. The west front of Wells Cathedral i 146 feet across, compared with 116 feet wide at the nearly contemporary Amiens Cathedral, though Amiens is twice as high. The west front of Wells was almost entirely covered with statuary, like Amiens, and was given even further emphasis by its colors; traces of blue, scarlet, and gold are found on the sculpture, as well as painted stars against the dark background on other sections.
Italian Gothic facades featured the three traditional portals and rose windows, or sometimes simply a large circular window without tracery plus an abundance of flamboyant elements, including sculpture, pinnacles and spires. However, they added distinctive Italian elements. as seen in the facades of Siena Cathedral ) and of Orvieto Cathedral, The Orvieto facade was largely the work of a master mason, Lorenzo Maitani, who worked on the facade from 1308 until his death in 1330. He broke away from the French emphasis on height, and eliminated the column statutes and statuary in the arched entries, and covered the facade with colourful mosaics of biblical scenes. He also added sculpture in relief on the supporting contreforts.
Another important feature of the Italian Gothic portal was the sculpted bronze door. The sculptor Andrea Pisano made the celebrated bronze doors for Florence Baptistry. They were not the first; Abbot Suger had commissioned bronze doors for Saint-Denis in 1140, but they were replaced with wooden doors when the Abbey was enlarged. Pisano's work, with its realism and emotion, pointed toward the coming Renaissance.

East end and the Lady Chapel

Cathedrals and churches were traditionally constructed with the altar at the east end, so that the priest and congregation congregation faced the rising sun during the morning liturgy. The sun was considered the symbol of Christ and the Second Coming, a major theme in Cathedral sculpture. The portion of the church east of altar is the choir, reserved for members of the clergy. There is usually a single or double ambulatory, or aisle, around the choir and east end, so parishioners and pilgrims could walk freely easily around east end.
In Romanesque churches, the east end was very dark, due to the thick walls and small windows. In the ambulatory the Basilica of Saint Denis. Abbot Suger first used the novel combination rib vaults and buttresses to replace the thick walls and replace them with stained glass, opening up that portion of the church to what he considered "divine light".
In French Gothic churches, the east end, or chevet, often had an apse, a semi-circular projection with a vaulted or domed roof. The chevet of large cathedrals frequently had a ring of radiating chapels, placed between the buttresses to get maximum light. There are three such chapels at Chartres Cathedral, seven at Notre Dame de Paris, Amiens Cathedral, Prague Cathedral and Cologne Cathedral, and nine at Basilica of Saint Anthony of Padua in Italy. In England, the east end is more often rectangular, and gives access to a separate and large Lady Chapel, dedicated to the Virgin Mary. Lady Chapels were also common in Italy.


Portals and Tympanum

Sculpture was an important element of Gothic architecture. Its intent was present the stories of the Bible in vivid and understandable fashion to the great majority of the faithful who could not read. The iconography of the sculptural decoration on the façade was not left to the sculptors. An edict of the Second Council of Nicaea in 787 had declared: "The composition of religious images is not to be left to the inspiration of artists; it is derived from the principles put in place by the Catholic Church and religious tradition. Only the art belongs to the artist; the composition belongs to the Fathers."
In Early Gothic churches, following the Romanesque tradition, sculpture appeared on the facade or west front in the triangular tympanum over the central portal. Gradually, as the style evolved, the sculpture became more and more prominent, taking over the columns of the portal, and gradually climbing above the portals, until statues in niches covered the entire facade, as in Wells Cathedral, to the transepts, and, as at Amiens Cathedral, even on the interior of the facade.
Some of the earliest examples are found at Chartres Cathedral, where the three portals of the west front illustrate the three epiphanies in the Life of Christ. At Amiens, the tympanum over the central portal depicted the Last Judgement, the right portal showed the Coronation of the Virgin, and the left portal showed the lives of saints who were important in the diocese. This set a pattern of complex iconography which was followed at other churches.
The columns below the tympanum are in the form of statues of saints, literally representing them as "the pillars of the church." Each saint had his own symbol at his feet so viewers could recognise them; a winged lion meant Saint Mark, an eagle with four wings meant Saint John the Apostle, and a winged bull symbolized Saint Luke.. Floral and vegetal decoration was also very common, representing the Garden of Eden; grapes represented the wines of Eucharist.
The tympanum over the central portal on the west façade of Notre-Dame de Paris vividly illustrates the Last Judgement, with figures of sinners being led off to hell, and good Christians taken to heaven. The sculpture of the right portal shows the coronation of the Virgin Mary, and the left portal shows the lives of saints who were important to Parisians, particularly Saint Anne, the mother of the Virgin Mary.
To make the message even more prominent, the sculpture of the tympanum was painted in bright colors. following a system of colours codified in the 12th century; yellow, called gold, symbolised intelligence, grandeur and virtue; white, called argent, symbolised purity, wisdom, and correctness; black, or sable, meant sadness, but also will; green, or sinople, represented hope, liberty and joy; red or gueules meant charity or victory; blue or azure symbolised the sky, faithfulness and perseverance; and violet, or pourpre, was the colour of royalty and sovereignty.
In the later Gothic, the sculpture became more naturalistic; the figures wee separated from the walls, and had much more expressive faces, showing emotion and personality. The drapery was very skilfully carved. The torments of hell were even more vividly depicted. The late Gothic sculpture at Siena Cathedral, by Nino Pisano, pointing toward the Renaissance, is particularly notable. Much of it is now kept in a museum to protect it from deterioration.

Grotesques and Labyrinths

Besides saints and apostles, the exteriors of Gothic churches were also decorated with sculptures of a variety of fabulous and frightening grotesques or monsters. These included the chimera, a mythical hybrid creature which usually had the body of a lion and the head of a goat, and the strix or stryge, a creature resembling an owl or bat, which was said to eat human flesh. The strix appeared in classical Roman literature; it was described by the Roman poet Ovid, who was widely read in the Middle Ages, as a large-headed bird with transfixed eyes, rapacious beak, and greyish white wings. They were part of the visual message for the illiterate worshippers, symbols of the evil and danger that threatened those who did not follow the teachings of the church.
The gargoyles, which were added to Notre-Dame in about 1240, had a more practical purpose. They were the rain spouts of the church, designed to divide the torrent of water which poured from the roof after rain, and to project it outwards as far as possible from the buttresses and the walls and windows so that it would not erode the mortar binding the stone. To produce many thin streams rather than a torrent of water, a large number of gargoyles were used, so they were also designed to be a decorative element of the architecture. The rainwater ran from the roof into lead gutters, then down channels on the flying buttresses, then along a channel cut in the back of the gargoyle and out of the mouth away from the church.
Many of the statues at Notre-Dame, particularly the grotesques, were removed from the façade in the 17th and 18th century, or were destroyed during the French Revolution. They were replaced with figures in the Gothic style, designed by Eugene Viollet-le-Duc during the 19th-century restoration. Similar figures appear on the other major Gothic churches of France and England.
Another common feature of Gothic cathedrals in France was a labyrinth or maze on the floor of the nave near the choir, which symbolised the difficult and often complicated journey of a Christian life before attaining paradise. Most labyrinths were removed by the 18th century, but a few, like the one at Amiens Cathedral, have been reconstructed, and the labyrinth at Chartres Cathedral still exists essentially in its original form.

Windows and stained glass

Increasing the amount of light in the interior was a primary objective of the founders of the Gothic movement. Abbot Suger described the new kind of architecture he had created in the east end of the Saint-Denis: "a circular ring of chapels, by virtue of which the whole church would shine with the wonderful and uninterrupted light of most luminous windows, pervading the interior beauty."
Religious teachings in the Middle Ages, particularly the writings of Pseudo-Dionysius, a 6th-century mystic whose book, De Coelesti Hierarchia, was popular among monks in France, taught that all light was divine. When the Abbot Suger ordered the reconstruction of choir of the his abbey church at Saint-Denis, he had the builders create seventy windows, admitting as much light as possible, as the means by which the faithful could be elevated from the material world to the immaterial world.
The placement of the windows was also determined by religious doctrine. The windows on the north side, frequently in the shade, featured windows depicting the Old Testament. The windows of the east, corresponding to the direction of th sunrise, featured images of Christ and scenes from the New Testament.
In the Early Gothic, period. the glass was particularly thick and was deeply colored with metal oxides; cobalt for blue, copper for a ruby red, iron fo green, and antimony for yellow. The process of making the windows was described detail by a monk, Theophilus, in the 12th century. The glass of each color was melted with the oxide, blown, shaped into small sheets, cracked with a hot iron into small pieces, and assembled on a large table. The details were painted onto the glass in vitreous enamel, then baked in a kiln to fuse the enamel on the glass. The pieces were fit into a framework of thin lead strips, and then put into a more solid frame or iron armatures between the panels. The finished window was set into the stone opening. Thin vertical and horizontal bars of iron, called vergettes or barlotierres, were placed inside the window to reinforce the glass against the wind.
The use of iron rods between the panels of glass and a framework of stone mullions, or ribs, made it possible to create much larger windows. The three rose windows at Chartres each were more than forty feet in diameter.. Larger windows also appeared a York Minster and Canterbury Cathedral
The stained glass windows were extremely complex and expensive to create. King Louis IX paid for the rose windows in the transept of Notre-Dame de Paris,but other windows were financed by the contributions of the professions or guilds of the city. These windows usually featured a panel which illustrated the work of the guild which funded it, such as the drapers, stonemasons, or barrel-makers.
The 13th century saw the introduction of a new kind of window, with grisaille, or white glass, with a geometric pattern, usually joined with medallions of stained glass. These windows allowed much more light into the cathedral, but diminished the vividness of the stained glass, since there was less contrast between the dark interior and bright exterior. The most remarkable and influential work of stained glass in the 13th century was the royal chapel, Sainte-Chapelle, where the windows of the upper chapel, fifty feet high, occupied all of the walls on the three sides, with 1,134 individual scenes. Sainte-Chapelle became the model for other chapels across Europe.
The 14th century brought a variety of new colors, and the use of more realistic shading and half-toning. This was done by the development of flashed glass. Clear glass was dipped into colored glass, then portions of the colored glass were ground away to give exactly the right shade. In the 15th century, artists began painting directly onto the glass with enamel colors. Gradually the art of glass came closer closer to painting.
One of the most celebrated Flamboyant buildings was the Sainte-Chapelle de Vincennes, with walls of glass from floor to ceiling. The original glass was destroyed, and is replaced by grisaille glass.: King's College Chapel, also followed the model of walls entirely filled with glass.
The stained glass windows were extremely complex and expensive to create. King Louis IX paid for the rose windows in the transept of Notre-Dame de Paris, while other windows were often financed by the contributions of the professions or guilds of the city. These windows usually featured a panel which illustrates the work of the guild which funded it, such as the drapers, stonemasons, or barrel-makers.
In England, the stained glass windows also grew in size and importance; major examples were the Becket Windows at Canterbury Cathedral and the windows of Lincoln Cathedral. Enormous windows were also an important element of York Minster and Gloucester Cathedral.
Much of the stained glass in Gothic churches today dates from later restorations, but a few, notably Chartres Cathedral and Bourges Cathedral, still have many of their original windows

The Rose window

The Rose window was a prominent feature of many Gothic churches and cathedrals. The rose was a symbol of the Virgin Mary, and they were particularly used in churches dedicated to her, including Notre-Dame de Paris, but nearly all the major Gothic cathedral featured them in the west facade, and often in the transepts as well. The designs of their tracery became increasingly complex, and gave their names to two periods; the Rayonnant and the Flamboyant. Two of the most famous Rayonnant rose windows were constructed in the transepts of Notre-Dame in the 13th century.

Evolving styles

Between the dedication of the choir at Saint-Denis, Paris, in 1144 and the completion of Henry VII's Chapel at Westminster Abbey in 1519, there were nearly 400 years of stylistic development in Gothic architecture. Nowhere was this more manifest that in the building of cathedrals and the great churches of abbeys, colleges and prosperous towns.
While the plan and elevation of the various types of Gothic ecclesiastical architecture remained consistently linked to purpose and to regional preferences, all the other elements developed, generally towards greater complexity, over the decades. The piers, the arcades, the galleries, the vaults and the portals, all evolved. The evolution was largely linked to and dependent upon the structural and ornamental flexibility of the pointed arch.
This development is traditionally divided into periods or styles according to the system of the 19th century French archaeologist Arcisse de Caumont. The periods are generally called Early Gothic, High Gothic, Rayonnant Gothic. These terms apply to the Gothic architecture of France and to those countries where the influence of French Gothic spread. These styles did not, however, progress at the same rate, or in the same way in every country.
In England, the reconstruction of Westminster Abbey and the east end of Canterbury Cathedral were both influenced by French Gothic, with the architect at Canterbury being William of Sens. Wells Cathedral, however, takes a completely different direction to French Gothic, introducing an unprecedented use of fluted mouldings, and other decorative innovations. Salisbury Cathedral and the nave of Lincoln are also very different to the French prototypes. Hence, the styles of English Gothic are referred to as Early English Gothic, Geometric Decorated and Flamboyant Decorated Gothic, ; and Perpendicular Gothic,, after the system proposed by Thomas Rickman.
One of the indicators of style is the nature of the windows and doors, and their decorative treatment. This is strongly associated with and affected by the type of arches used within the particular building.
The Gothic styles, Lancet, Geometric, Rayonnant, Flamboyant and Perpendicular, affected all the various forms of architectonic decoration within the church – arcading, niches, shrines, wooden panelling, furniture of all sorts, reliquaries, vessels, and vestments.

Arches, windows and tracery

Early or Lancet Gothic

The simplest shape of a Gothic window is a long opening with a pointed arch known in England as the lancet. Lancet windows may be used singly, as in the nave of Lincoln Cathedral, or grouped, as in the nave of Salisbury Cathedral where they are in two in the aisles and threes in the clerestory. Because large lancet windows, such as those lighting the aisles of a church may be wide in comparison to a single light in a traceried window, they often have armatures of wood or iron to support the glass. The arch of a lancet opening is often equilateral, but sometimes is much more acute, and when employed in the arcade of a choir apse, such as at Westminster Abbey, adds to the emphasis of height.
The simple shape of the lancet arch may appear in Early Gothic buildings on openings of all types, doorways, niches, arcades, including galleries; and belfry openings.
The use of lancet windows is found in the Early Gothic architecture of France, at Saint-Denis, and Sens and Senlis cathedrals. At Chartres and Laon cathedrals lancet windows are grouped beneath the rose windows. Tall narrow lancets are also found in radiating groups in the chancel apses of some churches, such as Chartres Cathedral. It is common in France for lancet windows to be used in smaller, narrower spaces, such as the chapels of a chevet, while traceries windows are used in the clerestory.
The style Lancet Gothic is known in England as Early English Gothic, with Salisbury Cathedral being the prime example. York Minster has a group of lancet windows each fifty feet high and still containing ancient glass. They are known as the Five Sisters. Wells Cathedral is notable for the continuous rows of lancet openings that make up the triforiun galleries.
Lancet windows are used extensively in the Gothic churches of Italy, including Florence Cathedral and in the Brick Gothic churches of Germany and Poland.

Geometric Gothic (England)

The Equilateral Arch lends itself to filling with tracery of simple equilateral, circular and semi-circular forms. In France, windows of clerestorys, and other larger windows were commonly divided into two lights, with some simple Geometric tracery above, a circle or a cinquefoil or sexfoil. This style of window remained popular without great change until after 1300.
In England there was a much greater variation in the design of tracery that evolved to fill these spaces. The style is known as Geometric Decorated Gothic and can be seen to splendid effect at many English cathedrals and major churches, where both the eastern and the western terminations of the building may be occupied by a single large window such as the east window at Lincoln and the west window at Worcester Cathedral. Windows of complex design and of three or more lights or vertical sections, are often designed by overlapping two or more equilateral arches springing from the vertical mullions.

Rayonnant Gothic

is the term used particularly to described the style that produced the great rose windows of France. These windows deck not only the west fronts of churches, but often, as at Notre-Dame de Paris, the transept gables as well. It is common that although the transepts of French churches do not project strongly, they are given visual importance almost equal to the west front, including large decorated portals and a rose window. Particularly fine examples are at Notre-Dame and Chartres Cathedral.

Flamboyant Gothic

The Flamboyant Arch is one that is drafted from four points, the upper part of each main arc turning upwards into a smaller arc and meeting at a sharp, flame-like point. These arches create a rich and lively effect when used for window tracery and surface decoration. The form is structurally weak and has very rarely been used for large openings except when contained within a larger and more stable arch. It is not employed at all for vaulting.
Some of the most beautiful and famous traceried windows of Europe employ this type of tracery. It can be seen at St Stephen's Vienna, Sainte-Chapelle in Paris, at the Cathedrals of Limoges and Rouen in France. In England the most famous examples are the West Window of York Minster with its design based on the Sacred Heart, the extraordinarily rich nine-light East Window at Carlisle Cathedral and the exquisite East window of Selby Abbey.
Doorways surmounted by Flamboyant mouldings are very common in both ecclesiastical and domestic architecture in France. They are much rarer in England. A notable example is the doorway to the Chapter Room at Rochester Cathedral.
The style was much used in England for wall arcading and niches. Prime examples in are in the Lady Chapel at Ely, the Screen at Lincoln and externally on the façade of Exeter Cathedral. In German and Spanish Gothic architecture it often appears as openwork screens on the exterior of buildings. The style was used to rich and sometimes extraordinary effect in both these countries, notably on the famous pulpit in Vienna Cathedral.

Perpendicular Gothic (England)

The depressed or four-centred arch is much wider than its height and gives the visual effect of having been flattened under pressure. Its structure is achieved by drafting two arcs which rise steeply from each springing point on a small radius and then turn into two arches with a wide radius and much lower springing point.
This type of arch, when employed as a window opening, lends itself to very wide spaces, provided it is adequately supported by many narrow vertical shafts. These are often further braced by horizontal transoms. The overall effect produces a grid-like appearance of regular, delicate, rectangular forms with an emphasis on the perpendicular. It is also employed as a wall decoration in which arcade and window openings form part of the whole decorative surface.
The style, known as Perpendicular, that evolved from this treatment is specific to England, although very similar to contemporary Spanish style in particular, and was employed to great effect through the 15th century and first half of the 16th as Renaissance styles were much slower to arrive in England than in Italy and France.
It can be seen notably at the East End of Gloucester Cathedral where the East Window is said to be as large as a tennis court. There are three very famous royal chapels and one chapel-like Abbey which show the style at its most elaborate: King's College Chapel, Cambridge; St George's Chapel, Windsor; Henry VII's Chapel at Westminster Abbey and Bath Abbey. However very many simpler buildings, especially churches built during the wool boom in East Anglia, are fine examples of the style.

Developments in ribbed vaulting

In France the vaults over the high spaces of nave and clerestory, in the Early Gothic period, was sexpartite, spanning two bays of the nave. This resulted in the vaulted space being almost square, and to diagonal ribs being semi-circular. Only the arches of the transverse ribs were pointed. This is the case at Sens, at Notre-Dame de Paris and the Nave of Laon Cathedral.
At Chartres Cathedral, and the choir of Laon Cathedral, however, the vault is in four parts, spans a single bay, is rectangular, and all the ribs are pointed. The quadripartite proved much easier to build because it required less centring. It is also stronger as the compartments are smaller. The quadripartite vault is used in the Early English cathedrals of Salisbury and Wells. It became the standard form of vault which lent itself to further development and elaboration.
In the nave of Lincoln Cathedral the vault acquired extra ribs known as tiercerons which meet at a central ridge rib running the length of the nave. An additional elaboration, to span the wide nave, was the introduction of intermediate ribs which do not reach the centre of the vault, but join two small lierne ribs projecting from the ridge. Other cathedrals with tierceron vaulting are Norwich, and Exeter.
Lierne ribs became a feature of later Gothic design, as at Bristol Cathedral and led the way to elaborate patterns within the vault, including reticular vaulting and stellar vaulting. Stellar vaulting was particularly fashionable in Germany, Eastern Europe and Spain. The use of short ribs lent itself to the introduction of curved and ogee shaped ribs, in the Flamboyant style. Flamboyant vaulting is particularly prevalent in Spain.
In England there are a number of chapter house, notably at Wells, Lincoln and Westminster Abbey, where the vault is supported by a single central column from which many ribs radiate in every direction like a palm tree. This also occurs at the high vault behind the altar at Jacobins Church, Toulouse, in France.
A further development was many shallow ribs radiating in a fan shape, so that visually, the appearance of the structural ribs is minimised, and the emphasis is upon the curving surfaces. These fan vaults were used successfully for narrower and lower structures such as the cloister at Gloucester Cathedral and the retrochoir at Peterborough, before being employed on the high vaults at the Chapel of Kings College Cambridge, and even even more elaborate form with pendant lanterns attached, at Henry VII's Chapel at Westminster Abbey.


Although Christianity played a dominant role in the Gothic sacred architecture, Jewish communities were present in many European cities during the Middle Ages and they also built their houses of prayer in the Gothic style. Unfortunately, most of the Gothic synagogues did not survive, because they were often destroyed in connection with persecution of the Jews. One of the best preserved examples of a Gothic synagogue is the Old New Synagogue in Prague which was completed around 1270 and never rebuilt.


There are a few mosques in Gothic style.
They are Latin Catholic churches converted into mosques.
The conversion implied compromises since Latin churches are oriented towards the East and mosques are oriented towards Mecca.
The Gothic style was used in royal and papal residences as well as in churches. Prominent examples include the Palais de la Cité the Louvre Palace, the Chateau de Vincennes in Paris, residences of the French kings, the Doge's Palace in Venice, and the Palace of the Kings of Navarre in Olite. Another is the Palais des Papes, the former Papal residence in Avignon. It was constructed between 1252 and 1364, during the Avignon Papacy. Given the complicated political situation, it combined the functions of a church, a seat of government and a fortress., (now in the Conciergerie; and the original chapel, Sainte-Chapelle, can still be seen.
The Louvre Castle was originally built by Philippe II of France beginning in 1190 to house the King's archives and treasures, and given machicoulis and features of a Gothic fortress. However, it was soon made obsolete by the development of artillery, and in the 15th century it was remodelled into a comfortable residential palace. While the outer walls retained their original military appearance, the castle itself, with a profusion of spires, towers, pinnacles, arches and gables, became a visible symbol of royalty and aristocracy. The style was copied in chateaux and other aristocratic residences across France and other parts of Europe.

Civic architecture

In the 15th century, following the late Gothic period or flamboyant style, elements of Gothic decoration developed churches began to appear in the town halls of northern France, in Flanders and in the Netherlands. The Rouen Courthouse in Normandy is representative of Flamboyant Gothic in France. The Hôtel de Ville of Compiègne has an imposing Gothic bell tower, featuring a spire surrounded by smaller towers, and its windows are decorated with ornate accolades or ornamental arches. Similarly flamboyant town halls were found in Arras, Douai, and Saint-Quentin, Aisne, and in modern Belgium, in Brussels and Ghent and Bruges.
Notable Gothic civil architecture in Spain includes the Silk Exchange in Valencia, Spain, a major marketplace, which features a main hall with twisting columns beneath its vaulted ceiling.

University Gothic

The first universities in Europe were closely associated with the Catholic church, and in the late 15th century they adapted variations of the Gothic style for their architecture. The Gothic style was adapted from English monasteries for use in the first colleges of Oxford University, including Magdalen College. It was also used at the University of Salamanca in Spain. The use of the late Gothic style at Oxford and Cambridge University inspired the picturesque Gothic architecture in U.S. colleges in the 19th and 20th century.
By the late Middle Ages university towns had grown in wealth and importance as well, and this was reflected in the buildings of some of Europe's ancient universities. Particularly remarkable examples still standing nowadays include the Collegio di Spagna in the University of Bologna, built during the 14th and 15th centuries; the Collegium Carolinum of the Charles University in Prague in Bohemia; the Escuelas mayores of the University of Salamanca in Spain; the chapel of King's College, Cambridge; or the Collegium Maius of the Jagiellonian University in Kraków, Poland.

Military architecture

In the 13th century, the design of the castle evolved in response to contact with the more sophisticated fortifications of the Byzantine Empire and the Islamic world during the Crusades. These new fortifications were more geometric, with a central high tower called a keep which could be defended even if the curtain walls of the castle were breached. The donjon of the Château de Vincennes, begun by Philip VI of France, was a good example. It was 52 meters high, the tallest military tower in Europe. A new kind of fortification was called Phillipienne after the crusading king Philip II of France.
Towers, usually round, were placed at the corners and along the walls in the Phillipienne castle, close enough together to support each other. The walls had two levels of walkways on the inside, a crennellated parapet with merlons, and projecting machicolations from which missiles could be dropped on besiegers. The upper walls also had protected protruding balconies, échauguettes and bretèches, from which soldiers could see what was happening at the corners or on the ground below. In addition, the towers and walls were pierced with arrowslits, which sometimes took the form of crosses to enable a wider field of fire for archers and crossbowmen.
Castles were surrounded by a deep moat, spanned by a single drawbridge. The entrance was also protected by a grill of iron which could be opened and closed. The walls at the bottom were often sloping, and protected with earthen barriers. One good surviving example is the Château de Dourdan, near Nemours.
After the end of the Hundred Years War, with improvements in artillery, the castles lost most of their military importance. They remained as symbols of the rank of their noble occupants; the narrowing openings in the walls were often widened into the windows of bedchambers and ceremonial halls. The tower of the Château de Vincennes became a royal residence.


Beginning in the 16th century, as Renaissance architecture from Italy began to appear in France and other countries in Europe, the dominance of Gothic architecture began to wane. Nonetheless, new Gothic buildings, particularly churches, continued to be built.
New Gothic churches built in Paris in this period included Saint-Merri and Saint-Germain l'Auxerrois. The first signs of classicism in Paris churches did not appear until 1540, at Saint-Gervais-Saint-Protais. The largest new church, Saint-Eustache, rivalled Notre-Dame in size, 105 meters long, 44 meters wide, and 35 meters high. As construction of this church continued, elements of Renaissance decoration, including the system of classical orders of columns, were added to the design, making it an early Gothic-Renaissance hybrid.
The Gothic style began to be described as outdated, ugly and even barbaric. The term "Gothic" was first used as a pejorative description. Giorgio Vasari used the term "barbarous German style" in his 1550 Lives of the Artists to describe what is now considered the Gothic style. In the introduction to the Lives he attributed various architectural features to the Goths whom he held responsible for destroying the ancient buildings after they conquered Rome, and erecting new ones in this style. In the 17th century, Molière also mocked the Gothic style in the 1669 poem La Gloire: "...the insipid taste of Gothic ornamentation, these odious monstrosities of an ignorant age, produced by the torrents of barbarism..." The dominant styles in Europe became in turn Italian Renaissance architecture, Baroque architecture, and the grand classicism of the style Louis XIV.

Survival, rediscovery and revival

Gothic architecture, usually churches or university buildings, continued to be built. Ireland was an island of Gothic architecture in the 17th and 18th centuries, with the construction of Derry Cathedral, Sligo Cathedral, and Down Cathedral are other notable examples. In the 17th and 18th century several important Gothic buildings were constructed at Oxford University and Cambridge University, including Tom Tower at Christ Church, Oxford, by Christopher Wren. It also appeared, in a whimsical fashion, in Horace Walpole's Twickenham villa, Strawberry Hill. The two western towers of Westminster Abbey were constructed between 1722 and 1745 by Nicholas Hawksmoor, opening a new period of Gothic Revival.
In England, partly in response to a philosophy propounded by the Oxford Movement and others associated with the emerging revival of 'high church' or Anglo-Catholic ideas during the second quarter of the 19th century, neo-Gothic began to become promoted by influential establishment figures as the preferred style for ecclesiastical, civic and institutional architecture. The appeal of this Gothic revival, gradually widened to encompass "low church" as well as "high church" clients. This period of more universal appeal, spanning 1855–1885, is known in Britain as High Victorian Gothic.
The Palace of Westminster in London by Sir Charles Barry with interiors by a major exponent of the early Gothic Revival, Augustus Welby Pugin, is an example of the Gothic revival style from its earlier period in the second quarter of the 19th century. Examples from the High Victorian Gothic period include George Gilbert Scott's design for the Albert Memorial in London, and William Butterfield's chapel at Keble College, Oxford. From the second half of the 19th century onwards, it became more common in Britain for neo-Gothic to be used in the design of non-ecclesiastical and non-governmental buildings types. Gothic details even began to appear in working-class housing schemes subsidised by philanthropy, though given the expense, less frequently than in the design of upper and middle-class housing.
The middle of the 19th century was a period marked by the restoration, and in some cases modification, of ancient monuments and the construction of neo-Gothic edifices such as the nave of Cologne Cathedral and the Sainte-Clotilde of Paris as speculation of mediaeval architecture turned to technical consideration. London's Palace of Westminster, St Pancras railway station, New York's Trinity Church and St Patrick's Cathedral are also famous examples of Gothic Revival buildings. The style also reached the Far East in the period, for instance, the Anglican St. John's Cathedral which was located at the centre of Victoria City in Central, Hong Kong.

Mediaeval Gothic