Cathedrals

cathedral

cathedral, church in which a bishop presides. The designation is not dependent on the size or magnificence of a church edifice, but is entirely a matter of its assignment as the church in which the bishop shall officiate.

Romanesque cathedrals (see Romanesque architecture and art) were massive, blocklike, domed and heavily vaulted structures based on the traditional basilica form, reflecting the style dominant in Europe from c.1050 to c.1200. The tall, wide nave arcade or colonnade, flanked by shallower, shorter aisles, ran from decorative exterior portals to a large ambulatory and an apse with radiating chapels. The nave was crossed by a transept and illuminated by a clerestory pierced by small windows so as not to diminish the strength of the supporting walls. The Romanesque cathedral is a strong visual whole with interrelated parts that emphasize its basic structural clarity.

The great cathedrals of the 13th and 14th cent. are the culminating expression of Gothic architecture. These buildings are distinctive in their consistent use of ribbed vaults, pointed arches, rose windows, buttresses, geometric tracery, and variegated stained glass. All of these elements were combined into a design of infinite complexity and richness. Gothic interior structure, also based on basilica form, included a long central arcaded or colonnaded nave with flanking aisles, a transept, a choir, ambulatory, and apse with radiating chapels. Stained glass was used to create a light, lacy effect of spiderweb airyness, made possible by buttressing the comparatively thin walls. The exterior facade was ornamented with great portals covered with sculpture and surmounted by double towers. Further towers often rose above transepts and crossing, and the rear portion of the entire edifice was engulfed in a profusion of buttresses and pinnacles. The building's structure is entirely subordinated visually to the intricacy of its details.

Among the most important medieval cathedrals are the following: France—Amiens, Beauvais, Bourges, Chartres, Le Mans, Notre-Dame de Paris, Rouen, Reims, Strasbourg; England—Canterbury, Durham, Ely, Lincoln, Peterborough, Salisbury, Wells, Westminster Abbey, Winchester, York; Germany—Bonn, Cologne, Mainz, Speyer, Ulm, Worms; Belgium—Antwerp, Brussels, Louvain, Ypres; Italy—Como, Florence, Milan, Monreale, Orvieto, Pisa, Siena, Spain—Ávila, Burgos, Barcelona, Salamanca, Seville, Toledo; Sweden—Lund, Uppsala. Among major cathedrals built in modern times and adhering to medieval styles of architecture are St. Patrick's Cathedral and the Cathedral of St. John the Divine (Episcopal) in New York City and the cathedrals of Washington, D.C., and Liverpool, England.

See O. von Simson, The Gothic Cathedral (1956); A. Rodin, Cathedrals of France (1960); G. H. Cook, The English Cathedral through the Centuries (1965); L. Baxter, The Cathedral Builders (1978); J. Gimpel, The Cathedral Builders (tr. 1983); C. Wilson, The Gothic Cathedral (1990).

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright© 2014, The Columbia University Press.

Selected full-text books and articles on this topic

The Gothic Enterprise: A Guide to Understanding the Medieval Cathedral
Robert A. Scott.
University of California Press, 2003
Cathedral: A Gothic Pilgrimage
Helen Huss Parkhurst.
Houghton Mifflin, 1936
The Social History of the English Medieval Cathedral
Stollard, Paul.
History Today, Vol. 43, February 1993
The Gothic World, 1100-1600: A Survey of Architecture and Art
John Harvey.
B. T. Batsford, 1950
Librarian’s tip: Chap. V "Cathedral Gothic"
Companion to Contemporary Architectural Thought
Ben Farmer; Hentie Louw.
Routledge, 1993
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 2 "The Temple or the Cathedral: The Search for Spirituality in Architecture, from the Renaissance to the Present Day"
An Architectural History of Peterborough Cathedral
Lisa A. Reilly.
Clarendon Press, 1997
Rebuilding St. Paul's after the Great Fire of London
Jane Lang.
Oxford University Press, 1956
Biographical Register of the English Cathedral Priories of the Province of Canterbury, c. 1066-1540
Joan Greatrex.
Clarendon Press, 1997
Art and Architecture in Medieval France: Medieval Architecture, Sculpture, Stained Glass, Manuscripts, the Art of the Church Treasuries
Whitney S. Stoddard.
Westview Press, 1972
Brunelleschi's Dome: How a Renaissance Genius Reinvented Architecture
Ross King.
Walker, 2000
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