Page 6, 13th November 1992

13th November 1992
Page 6
Page 6, 13th November 1992 — Building on a new wave of ideas

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Organisations: Yale University
Locations: Canterbury, Paris


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Building on a new wave of ideas

Medieval Architecture, Medieval Learning by Charles Redding and William Clark (Yale University Press, 122.50)

Leigh Netts

THE history of Canterbury Cathedral easily confirms the claim by the joint authors that Romanesque and Gothic churches were adaptable to changing liturgical practices. Even in France and Spain a sympathetic modern altar can glide easily into a sanctuary designed to have a different focal point.

In medieval times changes in construction methods appear to have been communicated quickly. This book reveals that builders in Spain altered designs within a year of difficulties with flying buttresses being encountered at Notre Dame in Paris.

In the I 180s William the Englishman, who was in charge of building Canterbury Cathedral, spent every winter in Paris, so a.s soon as an idea was implemented at Notre Dame or Reims, it appeared at Canterbury. Several capitals used the same patterns and cutting techniques.

However, such understanding was not always complete. William's flying buttresses at Canterbury did not actually resist any outward pressure. This was a period of growing mastery in building expertise and by the 13th century there were standards by which all practitioners were judged.

This was just part of parallel intellectual growth in history, philosophy, theology and law. But the pace and style in architecture was set by masters and builders and not by patrons even as famous as Abbot Suger of Saint Denis. The authors' case is that medieval builders were not reflecting cultural change but producing it.

Unfortunately the difficult text is sadly typical of many American academic books. New research and ideas are lost in a choice of words far more irritating than the expected American spelling.

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