Yesterday I gave my Aesthetics III students two pictures and a question. The first picture was of Exeter Cathedral in England, which was built in the Decorated Gothic style. Many flourishes, elaborate design, fan vaulting…it’s breathtaking.
The second picture was of two types of windows made in the Perpendicular Gothic style which came later. The window panes are narrow and tall; they are stately and serious. Here’s the question for the 11th graders:
There is a marked difference in architectural styles between the image on the left and those on the right. Explain the images above and why one followed the other. In your answer, posit the reason why one style is so widely seen in the U.S., and where.
Well, don’t give away the answer, but what I’m looking for is this: the Black Death swept through Europe in the 1300’s and put an end to building in the Decorated Gothic style. When building re-commenced after the devastating plague, designs were more austere and less exuberant. Many people had died…it was a time of sober reflection and humility. Great buildings needed to inspire confidence and to communicate quiet authority and trustworthiness.
The Perpendicular Gothic style which came from that time of sorrow and reflection was so suited to lasting institutions that it has become the expected look of universities and banks (and some churches, too). When Christian cultures reflect on what the hand of God has ordained, the results, either spiritual or architectural, are fruitful.
This leads me to wonder about the fire that engulfed Notre Dame Cathedral and the immediate calls for simply rebuilding it. Of course, it can be rebuilt to look as it was… Disney Corp could probably do it, or the Chinese government (which already builds whole cities in China to look like copies of Western cities). But will there be reflection in France, as to the meaning of this fire? French kings once claimed a special place of defending the Christian faith. Then they executed those reforming the Church and in their revolution exalted human reason, eventually placing their faith in an Emperor. The people in France most fervent in their faith today, those bringing up their children to be as fervent, are building mosques.
May God grant His church everywhere repentance, sobriety, and His Holy Spirit.
(These, by the way, are the kinds of things we discuss at Geneva in the upper grades. This is why we invest the time through the younger grades…to get to this point. Hang in there, parents! See it through!)
Brian Turner, Headmaster
April 23, 2019