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Part III

By the 11th century, the character of medieval life had begun to change. The pagan barbar­ians who settled all over Europe had adopted Christianity. Western Europe had a common enemy - the Moslems who had taken over the Holy Land. The­ popes launched the famous Crusades, begun at the end of the 11th century. The increased interest in the East stimulated by the Crusades opened up trade routes to the Orient again. All over Europe, cities began to develop as the result of increased commerce. All these factors combined to bring about an amazing burst of religious architectur­al energy about the year 1000.

We call this style Romanesque because Roman styles and building techniques were widely assimilated. The typical Romanesque church has few windows, small doorways, and massive walls. These were necessary for the support of the huge stone vaults, which began to replace the earlier wooden roofing. The small windows and heavy walls made the interiors­ vast and gloomy. As building techniques improved, however, the brusque, heavy Romanesque style gradually was refined and developed into the full-blown Gothic style. By the 13th century a new method of vaulting had developed. The vault was supported by piers on the inside and by buttresses on the outside, instead of by massive walls. Now that the walls were not structurally necessary, they could be opened up and filled with bright stained glass windows, filling the nave with a rich, mysterious light. The soaring vaults and towers of the Gothic church symbolized man's reach toward heaven.

Let us look more closely at the two church styles. Romanesque. Gothic. Romanesque - a fortress: simple and solid. Gothic - a skeleton: complex, infinite, lazy. Romanesque - flat, masculine, simply adorned. Gothic - three-dimensional, feminine, richly embroidered with deeply recessed doorways that seem to welcome, rather than exclude, the outside world. These flying buttresses support the nearly endless complexity of structural elements of the Gothic church.

Gothic churches were often named Notre Dame - our lady. The legend of ­­­ the Virgin bloomed all over Europe. She was the Queen of heaven, the patroness of the arts, learning, and love. Her flower was the rose, and her architectural symbol was the rose window. The towering church became the centre of later medieval city life. Early medieval towns had often begun as a group of houses clustered for protection near a castle or a monastery. In time, crowding within the walls caused the houses to spill over into the surrounding areas. Independent walled towns developed, with a church as their central feature. The church loomed ­above the townspeople. It cast its influence throughout their lives. It stood at the economic, intellectual and spiritual,­ as well as the physical, centre of the town. Around it clustered the burghers’ houses, overcrowded and unsanitary. At the well or fountain in ­the square before t­he church, the townspeople gathered daily. The old cloistered­ baptismal ­ f­ont in front of the early Christian churches had changed into the centre of city life. The cathedral was to the great monaster­ies and towns of the Middle Ages the symbolic equivalent of the classical acropolis. The faithf­ul saw it as the magic, holy mountain at the centre of the world. The church itself was built in crucifix form. Medieval man imagined his church to be the symbolic body of Chr­ist into which men entered to become one with God. We still use terms like r­ib and skeleton to describe medieval church architecture. Like the soaring­ piers, which sweep together at great height into the vaulted ceiling, Christian man in the Middle Ages stood firmly rooted in the hardship of his earthly existence. But, within the r­ich and mysterious light of his cathedrals, he aspired upwar­d to eternal gr­ace and salvation.