Column 11: In the Gothic Style

On today’s main page at Conservapedia, we are instructed by mr. Schlafly that,

On this day, June 10, 1194, Gothic architecture was born as construction began on the Chartres Cathedral.

I’d like to take this opportunity to correct a few small mistakes here.

We shall leave aside, for the moment, the problematic question of whether it is possible to fix the “birth” of an entire architectural style (especially on as complex as the Gothic) at one particular point, much less on one specific date.

Let’s turn instead to the factual errors. Firstly, it is not correct that construction on the Chartres Cathedral was begun in 1194. Construction was actually begun as early as 1145, but most of the church constructed at that time burned down in 1194. However, the western end of the old church survived, and was incorporated into the new construction.
Further, even a bit of research would show that Chartres Cathedral is by no means the first example of Gothic architecture. That honor is usually awarded to the Saint-Denis Basilica in the prominent monastery of the same name just outside Paris. Construction of the Basilica was initiated by the equally prominent Abbot Suger in 1125. The Cathedral of Chartres is definitely one of the finest examples of Gothic architecture, but not the first one.

The question of Gothic architecture is a bit more complex than that, though. Obviously, Aboot Suger did not sit down one day and decide to found a new style of architecture. The Gothic style is made up of a number of elements whose heritage can usually be traced even further back in architectural history. For instance, Durham Cathedral from 1093, while still essentially a Romanesque building, has several architectural features that would later become part of the Gothic style, especially ribbed vaults. The now-destroyed 11th century third abbey church at the monastery of Cluny, usually known as Cluny III, may also have served as an influence on the Gothic style. And some elements, such as the ribbed vaults can be traced back to 10th century North Africa. This of course illustrates how little sense it makes to try to fix the beginning of any style at one particular day. Architecture simply doesn’t work like that.

In closing, one does wonder why Conservapedia didn’t use the occasion of the construction of the new Chartres Cathedral to highlight the history of this fascinating development, instead of just throwing out a completely incorrect bit on the main page. Although, granted, that would have required actual research and an understanding of the issues involved, and I understand there’s no time for such little details when one has a trustworthy encyclopedia to build. So I will be happy to offer my services to the Conservapedia management for research and consulting services in any medieval subjects necessary, in return for a very reasonable hourly fee. Feel free to contact me.

The rest of you, I wish you a good night, and good luck.

PS: Conservapedia: Please do something about Chartres Cathedral.


4 Responses to “Column 11: In the Gothic Style”

  1. 1 PalMD June 10, 2007 at 2:17 pm

    Overly pedantic. Not concise. We want a readable encyclopedia, not some long-winded search for “truth”. Go to WP for that. I’ll review your edits.

  2. 2 lanfranc June 10, 2007 at 9:50 pm

    Thanks and Godspeed!


  1. 1 Brinjal Trackback on June 16, 2007 at 10:52 pm
  2. 2 Style » Column 11: In the Gothic Style Trackback on September 27, 2007 at 12:01 am

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