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The Cathedral Of Our Lady Of Chartres: How A Romanesque Basilica Became A French Gothic Masterpiece.

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The medieval period which dated from the fall of the Roman Empire until the beginning of the Renaissance is characterized by the advancements of the arts, humanities, science, and technology. The accomplishments of this era such as the introduction of algebra, the use of the decimal system, advancements in the translation of literature and philosophy, advancements in art and music, the invention of cannons, and the use of gunpowder had a profound impact on history. Although each of these accomplishments would later alter history, none were more powerful during this time than religious reform. Around the year 1000, the economy of France improved dramatically, which promoted a general sense of well-being. Monasteries flourished, cities began to grow again, and in them a new group of merchants and craftsmen emerged who would come to be known as the bourgeoisie. Trade returned to create a moneyed economy. Due in part to the popularity of pilgrimages to religious sites and in part to the Crusades, which began in France, the High Middle Ages saw a prodigious amount of monumental building and technological innovation in both secular and religious architecture. Architectural historians conventionally divide the High Middle Ages into the Romanesque and Gothic styles of architecture, which are differentiated by both formal and technical qualities. Romanesque is characterized by a revival of large-scale masonry construction and the rediscovery (or reinvention) of lost Roman building techniques and forms, thus the term Romanesque. Architectural styles were mastered, improved upon, and transformed. Magnificent cathedrals such as St. Sernin Cathedral were built in the classic Romanesque design. New architectural styles and building techniques lead to the building of Gothic cathedrals. Most French Gothic churches are immediately recognizable, offering gravity-defying stone skeletons surrounded by a forest of freestanding buttresses connected to the body of the building by flying arches (flying buttresses). Tall, pointed arches replace the squatter round arches that characterize Romanesque architecture, and delicately ribbed vaults replace the thick, barrel-shaped vaults that covered the interiors of Romanesque churches. Because of this sophisticated skeletal structure, Gothic architects could create outer walls of jewel-like stained glass instead of the thick walls and small windows of Romanesque churches1. Salisbury Cathedral is one of France's largest Gothic Cathedrals. However, no chapel better illustrates both the classic Gothic and the underlying Romanesque architectural styles than Chartres Cathedral.

The Cathedral of Our Lady of Chartres, (French: CathÐ"©drale Notre-Dame de Chartres), located in Chartres, about 80 km from Paris, is considered one of the finest examples in all France of the Gothic style of architecture; however this was not always so. The city of Chartres, which received its name from the Carnutes, a late Iron Age Celtic tribe, was a main center for the Druids, priests of the Gallic religion, and a regional capital of Celtic France. Druids gathered once a year at the sacred center of the Carnutes in an oak grove with a well, where they settled legal disputes and religious questions. This oak grove was to become the future site of Chartres Cathedral2. Plagued by disastrous fires that destroyed the earlier Cathedral many times, Bishop Fulbert (960-1028) initiated the construction of a large basilica in 1020. The subsequent basilica was of the classic Romanesque architecture. It was characterized by its enormous quality, its thick walls, round arches, sturdy piers, well-built vaults, large towers and ornamental arcading. Each building had clearly defined forms and they were often very symmetrical, so that the overall appearance was one of simplicity when compared with the Gothic buildings that were to follow. The general impression given by Romanesque architecture, in both ecclesiastical and secular buildings, is one of massive solidity and strength. In contrast with both the preceding Roman and later Gothic architecture in which the load bearing structural members are, or appear to be, columns, pilasters and arches, Romanesque architecture, in common with Byzantine architecture, relies upon its walls, or sections of walls called piers3. The Romanesque church was often built in the shape of a Latin cross, and often featured very geometrical ornamentation.

Although the Gothic Cathedral adopted a new look, its floor plan remained the same as its Romanesque ancestor, a Latin cross. The major differences came with the use of stone rib vault and pointed arches. The Romanesque cathedral featured groin vaults. These vaults were produced by intersecting two barrel vaults at rights angles, and were often heavy and required several lateral buttresses. The use of barrel and groin vaults required the Romanesque characteristic thick walls to support its weight, thereby reducing the amount of windows that could be placed between buttresses. The cathedral was often dark, but this wouldn't be a problem for the livelier Gothic cathedral. The introduction of the ribbed and pointed arch vaults solved the problem of the older Romanesque church. Whereas as the rounded vaults of the Romanesque church were heavy and required massive support to counter the outward thrusts of the vaults, Gothic architects developed a system of stone ribs to distribute the weight of the vault onto columns and piers all the way to the ground; the vault could now be made of lighter, thinner stone and the walls opened to accommodate ever-larger windows4. The employment of the flying buttress meant that the load bearing walls could contain cut-outs, such as for large windows that would otherwise seriously weaken the vault walls. Flying buttresses, arches that "fly" from the tops of the outside walls to large piers standing well away from the building, were used from the beginning at Chartres. Earlier churches, such as Notre Dame in Paris, which were originally built without them, required deep galleries, upper levels as deep as the side aisles, for stability. Though these galleries could be used for overflow crowds to hear a service, nothing on the ground floor is visible from them. Chartres' architects replaced them with a low (10-foot high), narrow, arcaded passageway built into the wall at the level of the sloping roofs over the side aisles. It consequently has no windows, but creates a layer of space that visually lightens the interior; and the passage is useful for maintenance. In combination, the flying buttresses and elimination of the deep galleries allowed the architect to make the windows on the top (clerestory) level of the church as tall as the arches in the ground-floor arcade (46 feet).6

Compared to its predecessor, the Gothic version of the Chartres Cathedral was magnificent. New styles of architecture, such

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