Gothic architecture

Tintern Abbey (photo Corinne Mills)Gothic took Romanesque and stretched its forms to heaven. The round arches inherited from Roman buildings gave way to pointed arches. Barrel vaults gave way to ribbed vaults. The vault load was carried by graceful flying buttresses, opening up more wall space for large, traceried windows. The effect was lighter and airier. Church towers grew taller, or could be topped by spires. Lofty Gothic cathedrals speak of a power transcending the mundane. Among their glories are great rose windows filled with stained glass.

Much Gothic ornamentation is inspired by nature. Columns sprout leafy capitals; vines twist along screens. Humanity has its place too, with statues ornamenting façades and corbels carved with human heads.

The ribbed vault in Durham Cathedral was completed as early as 1133. It was the first in Europe, and its slightly pointed arches look forward to Gothic. Abbot Suger's redesign of the Abbey of St. Denis, near Paris (c.1137-51) used more decidedly pointed ribbed vaults and led the way to the Early Gothic style which flowered first in France. Laon Cathedral (1160-1225) expressed it to the full.

Salisbury CathedralA disaster ushered Gothic into England. Canterbury Cathedral was devastated by fire in 1174. The architect of its renewal - William of Sens in Normandy - seized the chance to redesign in the new French style. More Gothic cathedrals followed at Wells (c.1180-1240), Lincoln (1192-1250), Salisbury (1220-c.1266; shown left), and Lichfield (c.1230-40). These are classified as Early English - the first period of Gothic in England, running roughly to the end of the 13th century. The style soon spread to Ireland, Scotland and Wales.

The Decorated style of the first half of the 14th century was more profuse in ornament; its hallmarks are the ballflower and the ogee arch.

From the mid-14th century England branched out from the mainstream of European Gothic to develop its own Perpendicular style, characterised by vertical lines, rich carving and (in its latest stages) fan vaulting - see Tudor. In Scotland the 14th-century alliance with France brought in the Flamboyant style of Continental Gothic, with shapes like flickering flames in the tracery lights.

The Gothic style was revived with particular fervour in the Victorian period - see Gothic Revival.


Also see sources for dating historic buildings, and sources for cathedrals, churches and monasteries.