The soaring architecture of the great Gothic cathedrals represents one of the outstanding technical and cultural achievements of Western civilization. The major breakthroughs in building methods that made this architecture possible first took place in France during the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, radiating outwards from there to other European countries and establishing a new kind of environment for religious performance and devotion. Analysis of the structure of the Gothic cathedrals has usually focused on the great technical achievements of master masons in creating soaring spaces enclosed by skeletal cages of taut shafts and moldings through the use of rib vaults, flying buttresses, and bar tracery. Professor Davis's lecture will acknowledge the importance of these developments while also considering the role of the cathedrals in creating an essentially new type of multi-media environment that included the buildings' sculpture and stained glass windows. Focusing especially on the Sainte-Chapelle in Paris, the papal memorial of Saint-Urbain in Troyes, and Clermont Cathedral, he will show how these magnificent buildings introduced a modern, ahistorical set of forms that composed a framework to organize spiritual ascent rising through a series of measured stages of vision and devotional experience.
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