The Gothic Enterprise: A Guide to Understanding the Medieval Cathedral

By Robert A. Scott | Go to book overview

CONCLUSION
Learning from Stonehenge

Our story began with the great cathedral church in Salisbury, England. Eight miles away, at the north end of the Woodford Valley, stands another grand monument, the famous Neolithic stone circle of Stonehenge. When Julia and I lead tours to Salisbury and neighboring cathedrals, we often include a visit to Stonehenge. The more I have learned about Stonehenge, the more I have been struck by the similarities between it and cathedral-building projects. 1

A good deal of the scholarship about cathedrals on which I have drawn is suffused with discussions of the religious dogmas of the people who built them. The scholarly accounts are rooted in the same tenets of Catholic theology that bishops, kings, abbots, and master masons used to formulate for themselves and explain to others what they were doing. Religious doctrine is clearly important in accounting for the Gothic enterprise, but we may lose a valuable insight if we look only at Christian explanations. Some of the same forms and impulses that lay behind cathedral-building projects are present in Neolithic monuments, which were built thousands of years before Catholic theology existed. Appreciating the similarities, I believe, adds an important comparative dimension to our understanding of Gothic cathedrals.

The Stonehenge monument we see today is a magnificent ruin, a hodgepodge of the remains of three separate building projects. It is customary to refer to these as Stonehenge I, dating to circa 3100 b.c.;

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