America is known for being a melting pot of cultures, religions, philosophies, languages and peoples. Today, over four centuries later, many religions are practiced in America, and various structures have been built as houses of faith and worship.
A number of these buildings recall earlier religious architectural styles, and this is definitely true regarding Gothic cathedrals. Anyone who has had the opportunity to walk through one of these structures constructed in medieval Europe can’t help but be spellbound by the immensity of their size, the powerful appearance of their facades, or the stunning beauty of their stained glass windows.
These cathedrals are symbols of faith, built without the modern construction equipment of today. And how did those huge, heavy stone structures have walls of glass?
Initially, chunks of stone needed to be quarried and a mason would work to shape those into smaller piece. Medieval manuscripts show depictions of cathedral construction, and from them we get to know that a pulley system was used to get heavy stones up multiple stories. Creators would employ a big wooden wheel that a person would walk within to put the wheel moving. The wheel was connected to rope, which was rigged to a wooden platform that they would stuff with stones. As a person stepped inside the wheel, it would put tension on the rope, take advantage of the stones higher and higher. Once the stones were arranged, it was essential that each layer of rock was level to create the necessary balance for the overall structure.
In earlier times, the only method to build a tall construction was to build it with thick walls. How were people living in the Middle Ages able to build these towers of stone that had relatively thin walls filled with gorgeous glass? The answer lies in three components of their architectural design: the pointed arch, flying buttresses, and vaulted ceilings which mimic the same engineering behind a Gothic arch.
In a pivoted arch, the weight of the stonework distributes in a more lateral fashion, putting stress on the walls of the structure. The brilliance of the Gothic (pointed) arch, however, is that this engineering development directed the weight down the arch to the ground. With all of the weight being moved to the ground, the walls were then able to be created largely of beautifully colored windows.
At the same time, medieval architects designed flying buttresses, which essentially function as huge stone arms placed at the greatest stress points in the arches to support the weight of the heavy stone. Vaulted ceilings have the same pointed design of the Gothic arch, driving the weight of the whole structure to the ground, as an alternative to distributing the weight through the walls.
Once they had figured out how to drive the weight to the ground, it opened up the chance of allowing light to stream into the church by creating walls of colorful glass. In medieval times, glass makers would add metals to the liquid glass mixture to create several colors in the glass. They would shape that glass into discs and then once they had achieved a desired hue
it could be cut, with other colored glass discs, into the various pieces that would come together to make vibrantly colored windows.
There’s no question about it; these structures exemplify a huge architectural feat, and they’re still astonishing when you walk inside them today. And while the Gothic style cathedrals constructed on American soil aren’t as old as the ones built in the Middle Ages, they have something in common, apart from their design: they were built as sacred structures to house worshippers.
As a motorcoach company, Bedore Tours love partnering with church groups. Please don’t hesitate to call if we can help transport your cathedral choir to a benefit performance or help in shuttling at a church sponsored event. Bedore Tours motorcoaches are created to ensure transportation on a larger scale. Whether it’s for worship or service, we’re on hand for all of your congregational needs! (And, if you loved reading this and want to discover more about Gothic cathedral construction in the Middle Ages, browse through this documentary by PBS that we watched to get the information for this article: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=gFxNFxjV4IA).