A Thousand Years of History
Medieval Cathedrals as Time Machines
of the lecture given by Jon Cannon
on November 28th 2012
Our speaker today was Jon Cannon, an architectural
historian and university lecturer with an in-depth knowledge of the
history and development of the great European religious buildings.
A bishop's church houses a bishop's seat, known as a 'Cathedra'. Hence
a bishop's church is called a Cathedral.
In the years following the Norman Invasion of 1066 every bishop's
church in England developed in stages in a massive rebuilding exercise.
Lincoln Cathedral was for several years the largest building in Europe.
The older Romanesque style of building with round arches was superseded
by the Gothic arches, having a pointed top, following their development
in northern France in the middle of the 12th century. This Gothic
construction was stronger and lighter and could be built taller. It
allowed much more light into the buildings.
|Estimated overall architectural activity
at the English cathedrals
(Church building only)
The rebuilding program for the cathedrals is
illustrated in the graph
opposite. The cost of the work was mainly borne by the bishop's estates
and also by donors seeking some favour in the afterlife. The
construction time was dependant to an extent upon the flow of finance.
The new cathedrals were not only about the might of God but also the
power of the invaders. By 1090 every major settlement in the country
became a building site. Norwich obliterated its market place houses and
churches which were replaced by a castle and a cathedral - twin
examples of the invaders might.
The naked mermaid at Exeter
Most cathedrals formed the life centre of vast
which provided living for the local communities.
The design and building works were in the hands of the master mason who
was the medieval equivalent of today’s architect. Most
of the masons started their working lives in one of the quarries where
blocks were cut and prepared to the master mason’s exact requirements.
The blocks of stone had to be cut from natural layers of variable
quality as found in the quarry. This minimised the transport
requirements to the building site.
The cathedrals were rebuilt or extended many times over the centuries.
At Canterbury, England's mother church, we know almost every stage.
There were many skills displayed by individual masons
who developed by
moving from one project to another until they were sufficiently
knowledgeable to become masters and take on projects of their own.
These men were highly paid and became rich and respected in their
Jon gave us an intriguing insight into the art involved in the
decoration of buildings with stone carvings and pictures and the many
tombs and memorials. This altar screen is from
Winchester and illustrates the amazing detail in the stone carvings of
statues and their surrounds.
In many cases cathedral art emphasises the power of the bishops. Here,
on the 12th century font at Winchester, bishop-saint Nicholas performs
an act of charity outside his cathedral.
concluded his talk by referring to his recently published book upon the
great English cathedrals. This is a well laid out and sumptuously
illustrated volume. An excellent, if bulky, guide to future visits to
our English cities.
Several members took the opportunity to purchase a copy.