Cathedral Formation in the Middle Ages

Cathedral Formation, Charter Bus Houston, Texas

Cathedral Formation in the Middle Ages

America is known for being a melting pot of cultures, religions, peoples, philosophies and languages. Today, over four centuries later, many religions are practiced in America, and various structures have been built as houses of faith and worship.

Some of these constructions recall earlier religious architectural styles, and this is definitely true pertaining to Gothic cathedrals. Anyone who has had the opportunities to practice one of these structures constructed in medieval Europe can’t help but be spellbound by the immensity of their size, the commanding appearance of their facades, or the stunning beauty of their stained glass windows.

These cathedrals are symbols of faith, built without the modern construction equipment of today. And how did those huge, heavy stone structures have walls of glass?

First, chunks of stone must be quarried and a mason would work to shape those into smaller building blocks. Medieval manuscripts show pictures of cathedral construction, and from them we get to know that a pulley system was used to get heavy stones up multiple stories. Builders would employ an enormous wooden wheel that a person would walk inside of to put the wheel moving. The wheel was connected to rope, which was tampered with to a wooden platform that they would load with stones. As a person strolled inside the wheel, it would put tension on the rope; utilize the stones higher and higher. Once the stones were put in place, it was essential that each layer of rock was level to produce the necessary balance for the overall structure.

In earlier times, the only method to build a tall structure was to build it with thick walls. How were people living in the Middle Ages able to build these towers of stone that had relatively thin walls filled with gorgeous glass? The answer depends on three components of their architectural design: the pointed arch, flying buttresses, and vaulted ceilings which mimic the same engineering behind a Gothic arch.

In a rounded arch, the weight of the stonework distributes in a more lateral fashion, putting stress on the walls of the structure. The brilliance of the Gothic (pointed) arch, however, is that this engineering development directed the weight down the arch to the ground. With all the weight being moved to the ground, the walls were then able to be made up largely of beautifully colored windows.

At the same time, medieval architects designed flying buttresses, which essentially serve as huge stone arms placed at the greatest stress points in the arches to support the weight of the heavy stone. Vaulted ceilings have the same sharp design of the Gothic arch, driving the weight of the entire structure to the ground, as an alternative to distributing the weight through the walls.

Once they had determined how to drive the weight to the ground, it opened up the possibility of allowing light to stream into the church by creating walls of colorful glass. In medieval times, glass makers would add metals to the liquid glass mixture to create several colors in the glass. Once they had achieved a desired hue, they would shape that glass into discs and then it could be cut, with other colored glass discs, into the various pieces that would come together making vibrantly colored windows.

There’s no question about it; these buildings represent a huge architectural feat, and they’re still spectacular when you walk inside them today. And while the Gothic style cathedrals developed on American soil aren’t as old as the ones built in the Middle Ages, they have something in common, other than their design: they were built as sacred structures to house worshippers.

As a motorcoach company, we love working with church groups. Please don’t hesitate to call if we can help transport your cathedral choir to a benefit performance or help in shuttling at a church sponsored event. Motorcoaches are made to provide transportation on a larger scale. Whether it’s for worship or service, we’re on hand for all of your congregational needs! (And, if you loved reading this and want to learn more about Gothic cathedral construction in the Middle Ages, check out this documentary by PBS that we watched to get the information for this article: ).