Gothic Cathedrals – The Origin of the Term Gothic in Architecture

The term “Gothic” originated in the Renaissance, when humanists and classicizing writers derogatorily referred to “the Goths” who – in the humanists’ view – had destroyed classical culture. In architecture these Renaissance writers differentiated between the Gothic buildings and their favoured classical style.   

Medieval Gothic cathedrals amaze numerous people worldwide. Every year they attract visitors, whether they are Catholics, Christians from other denominations or even non-believers. We generally associate with these magnificent buildings specific features like pinnacles, gargoyles, spires, pointed arches, flying buttresses, tapering pillars, spacious interiors, profuse decoration, ribbed vaults, a large-scale use of stained glass and the circular oculus.

These are also many of the salient characteristics of Gothic architecture. In relation to architecture the term Gothic was actually coined during the Renaissance. Especially Italian humanists as well as classicizing writers and architects of the 16th century like the painter Giorgio Vasari (1511-74), for example, referred to “the Goths” in a derogatory way to distinguish classical architecture from the – in their view – “barbaric” style in the medieval period.

According to Vasari in his The Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects (Italian: Le Vite de’ più eccellenti pittori, scultori, e architettori; 1550, enl. ed. in 1568), this “monstrous” style showed no sign of “any accepted ideas of sense and order.” Broadly speaking, the Renaissance writers linked medieval architecture to the 5th-century Gothic tribes that – in their opinion – had been responsible for destroying the classical culture of the Roman empire.

Instead of the – in Vasari’s words – “accursed buildings” with their pointed arches, the Renaissance men favoured principles or features they attributed to classical architectural style including human dimensions, simplicity, elegance, symmetry and balance. Even though the 16th-century writers correctly pointed out the differences in the architecture of the classical, medieval and Renaissance or early modern period, they made a complete misjudgment regarding the aesthetics and the qualities of Gothic structures.

Intriguingly, Gothic architecture evolved from the Romanesque architectural style. The latter is characterized, for instance, by thick walls, round towers, tunnel vaults, semi-circular arches and windows that are limited in number and size. As far as the Gothic cathedrals are concerned, they originated in northern France during the 12th century. Today, medieval Gothic cathedrals are scattered about Europe. Undoubtedly, one of the most famous of them is Notre-Dame de Paris, which was built between 1163 and 1345.

Notre-Dame de Paris (another view, 2017)
Notre-Dame de Paris in 2017

Needless to say, the recent fire in this impressive place of worship justifiably shocked a very large number of people across the globe because it resulted in immense damage. Thank God and thanks to the firefighters and men like the courages priest, Jean-Marc Fournier, the fire neither destroyed the whole building nor consumed sacred relics such as the Crown of Thorns and several of the irreplaceable artworks.

However, the horrible event has understandably worried a lot of people, above all the French. Notre-Dame de Paris constitutes a house of God, one of the iconic landmarks of Paris and a part of Western civilization. For this reason, statements that depict the famous Gothic cathedral as a mere building are inappropriate. A sign of hope is certainly the great willingness to donate money for the rebuilding.

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Domini Canes or Dominicans

A short entry about the nickname of the Dominicans – “domini canes” (Eng. “hounds of the Lord”)

In the medieval Dominican church Santa Maria Novella in Florence visitors find impressive frescoes. One of them is called (in English) Allegory of the Active and Triumphant Church and of the Dominican order. It was created by the 14th-century  Italian painter Andrea di Bonaiuto da Firenze or Andrea da Firenze. You can see it in the Spanish Chapel  (or, actually, Cappellone degli Spagnoli).

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A part of the fresco Allegory of the Active and Triumphant Church and of the Dominican order (14th century)
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Dominicans (the hounds of the Lord)

A part of this fresco apparently illustrates, among other people, three Dominican saints –  St Peter of Verona, the founder of this Catholic order St Dominic and the famous Doctor of the Church St Thomas Aquinas – and black and white spotted hounds. St Thomas seems to debate and teach non-Christians as well as heretics, while St Dominic preaches to a group of people.

St Peter of Verona appears to order black and white spotted dogs or hounds to fight off wolves. The hounds represent the Dominicans, alluding to their nickname.

Dominicans wear white habits and black cloaks. Thus, they are / were referred to as Blackfriars in England. Because the Dominicans zealously preached, adhered to doctrinal law and acted against heretics, they received the nickname “domini canes” or, in English, “hounds of the Lord or God”. It was a Latin pun on Dominicans (domini means, in English, of the Lord and canes means dogs or hounds).

 

 

 

 

Bare ruin’d quiers, where late the sweet birds sang – A Short (Visual) Reflection on a Line in Shakespeare’s Sonnet 73

England’s monastic past is evoked through a line in William Shakespeare’s Sonnet 73. It  also reminds us of what happened to many monasteries and abbeys in Britain during and after the Reformation in England and Scotland.  

Poetry generally possesses a unique character. However, because of the metaphorical language and the elusive allusions, we frequently have difficulty in deciphering the stories poems tell or the messages they convey. The same applies to William Shakespeare’s sonnets.

Although Sonnet 73 is no exception in this regard, a single line is particularly striking. We find it at the end of the first quatrain:

“That time of yeare thou maist in me behold

When yellow leaves, or none, or few doe hange

Upon those boughes which shake against the could,

Bare ruin’d quiers, where late the sweet birds sang.”

(This quatrain is taken from Duffy, Eamon. Saints, Sacrilege & Sedition: Religion and Conflict in the Tudor Reformation. London: Bloomsbury, 2012. P. 234.)

Here Shakespeare evokes England’s monastic past but also alludes to the monastic ruins in the post-Reformation period. In general, the one-line evocation gives a feeling of nostalgia. It permits the interpretation that Shakespeare arguably assumed a critical attitude towards the English Reformation, while he appeared to be in favour of late medieval monasticism and Catholicism.

During as well as after the Reformation in England and Scotland the overthrow of late medieval monasticism resulted in the dissolution, destruction and pillage of many monasteries, abbeys and other religious buildings. A large amount of church land was also transferred.

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The ruins of Battle Abbey (2012)
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Inside Battle Abbey (2012)

Today, we can still visit the romantic ruins. They are a reminder of a distant past. Examples are Battle Abbey, the partially ruined building on the alleged site of the famous Battle of Hastings, and the ruins of Holyrood Abbey beside the Palace of Holyroodhouse in the Scottish capital Edinburgh, even though in the 17th century the demolished Augustinian monastery was rebuilt and fell into disrepair in the 18th century.

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The ruins of Holyrood Abbey (2018)

Note: All photos were taken by me (Nils Zumbansen) in 2012 and 2018. 

Source

Duffy, Eamon. Saints, Sacrilege & Sedition: Religion and Conflict in the Tudor Reformation. London: Bloomsbury, 2012. 

Santa Croce in Florence – A Magnificent Basilica and Resting Place

This short post is about Santa Croce in Florence and the resting place inside the basilica. 

If you visit Florence as a tourist, you need to see the magnificent Basilica di Santa Croce (eng. Basilica of the Holy Cross), the largest Franciscan church in the world. It is located  in the eastern centre of this Renaissance city.

According to legend, Santa Croce was founded by the famous Saint Francis of Assisi  (1181/82-1226) himself. At any rate, the construction of the current building had begun in 1294 or 1295, before it was completed at the end of the 14th century. Eventually, Pope Eugene IV consecrated the church in the 15th century.

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Inside the basilica Santa Croce

You may want to take part in a service. Besides impressive frescoes by Giotto and great art, you will find remarkable tombs because the church is a resting place of notable Italians. There are funerary monuments to the men such as the diplomat, historian and political philosopher Niccolò Machiavelli (1469-1527), the artist Michelangelo (1475-1564) as well as the natural philosopher, astronomer and mathematician Galileo Galilei (1564-1642).

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The tomb of Machiavelli
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The tomb of Michelangelo
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The tomb of Galileo

Note: All photos were taken by me (Nils Zumbansen) in 2018.