The History of Medieval Europe

By Lynn Thorndike; James T. Shotwell | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XXII
THE MEDIEVAL CATHEDRALS

THE medieval revival of civilization which we have already traced in other fields was accompanied by a resumption of building on a large scale and in a durable and monumental fashion, such as had marked the heyday of the Roman Empire. Of the feudal castle and municipal buildings we have already said something. But by far the grandest architecture of the time was ecclesiastical. Indeed, the remains of this medieval religious architecture which have survived to our time surpass in number, interest, and artistic merit the ruins from any previous period of the world's history. A cathedral was the external expression in material but artistic form of the vast power of the Church in those days and of the religious spirit of the Middle Ages. It was an effort to symbolize the Church in its entirety, to build a fitting house for God and all the saints. We have seen how Augustine in his literary masterpiece, The City of God, a work which dominated Christian thought for many centuries, set over against the declining world of ancient Rome the eternal commonwealth of God's elect, and sketched in his fervid rhetoric the ideals and interests of that Church here on earth which strives toward the kingdom of heaven. The cathedral-builders did in stone what he had done in words, and they did it better. His arguments were sometimes weaker than his rhetoric, but their adornment was in close accord with their structure. Few read Augustine's book to-day, but many cross the ocean to see the handiwork of those anonymous architects.

Importance of medieval ecclesiastical architecture

The cathedrals were the greatest product of the Middle Ages and they were a work that only the Middle Ages could produce. They show us what the Church could accomplish at a time when it had great wealth and power and when every one belonged to it and believed in it. They show

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