The Splendor of English Gothic Architecture
199 pages
English

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The Splendor of English Gothic Architecture

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199 pages
English

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This book explains and celebrates the richness of Englishchurches and cathedrals, which have a major place inmedieval architecture. The English Gothic style developedsomewhat later than in France, but rapidly developed itsown architectural and ornamental codes. The author, John Shannon Hendrix, classifies English Gothic architecture in four principal stages: the early English Gothic, the decorated, the curvilinear, and the perpendicular Gothic. Several photographs of these architectural testimonies allow us to understand the whole originality of Britain during the Gothic era: in Canterbury, Wells, Lincoln, York, and Salisbury. The English Gothic architecture is a poetic one, speaking both to the senses and spirit.
churches and cathedrals, which have a major place in medieval architecture. The English Gothic style developed somewhat later than in France, but rapidly developed its own architectural and ornamental codes. The author, John Shannon Hendrix, classifies English Gothic architecture in four principal stages: the early English Gothic, the decorated, the curvilinear, and the perpendicular Gothic. Several photographs of these architectural testimonies allow us to understand the whole originality of Britain during the Gothic era: in Canterbury, Wells, Lincoln, York, and Salisbury. The English Gothic architecture is a poetic one, speaking both to the senses and spirit.

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Date de parution 15 septembre 2015
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EAN13 9781783107940
Langue English
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ISBN: 978-1-78310-794-0
John Shannon Hendrix



The Splendour
of
English Gothic Architecture
Contents


Introduction
Early English
Decorated
Curvilinear
Perpendicular
Acknowledgements
Bibliography
Index
Nave vault, 1475-1490. Sherborne Abbey.


Introduction


The purpose of this book is to examine and celebrate the richness of English Gothic architecture, in its use of materials, light, space, pattern, texture, and colour. Cathedrals and churches in England are among the most beautiful buildings in the world; they display less material splendour, but a more spiritual or experiential splendour. The experience of many of the buildings is unparalleled: being in the buildings, it is possible to find a sense of fulfillment through pleasure in the senses, intellectual stimulation in the complex structures and patterns, and the spirituality to which the spaces are devoted. The buildings make possible an architectural experience which is unique, and have a richness beyond most buildings, especially modern buildings. Architecture is closer to reaching its potential in these buildings than in most others: its potential to create a fulfilling experience in which human identity is understood in relation to nature and the divine. The architecture speaks, through its materials, spaces, structures, textures, and patterns, to both the senses and intellect; it is among the most poetic of all architecture, and is among the closest of all buildings which form art while still fulfilling the aspirations of architecture. The hope of this book is for the details of the buildings to be seen together as a whole, as a myriad of variations on a theme, which, taken together, represent an extraordinary architectural experience.
The development of English Gothic architecture throughout the Middle Ages, from 1180 to 1540, is relatively homogeneous and consistent, contributing to the same campaign, the same particular use of vocabulary elements, with surprising and innovative variations, and the same expressive intentions. Consistently throughout the development of English Gothic architecture, there is an intention in the architecture to express a poetic idea through the juxtaposition of non-structural geometries with the structural geometries of the architecture. Its characteristic “handwriting”, the linear networks, surface patterns, geometrical articulations, and spatial interpenetrations contribute to the creation of an architecture in which form contradicts function, resulting in a poetic expression. In order for architecture to be art, its form must contradict its function, as architecture, unlike other arts, can never be free and independent from its function. The cathedrals and churches of English Gothic architecture contribute to an expression of a coherent idea, representing the theology, philosophy, and epistemology (Scholasticism) of medieval England. The buildings are intended as catechisms, as three-dimensional models for didactic purposes, to represent and communicate basic ideas about man, God, and being to everyone. Such concepts of the structure of the universe, being, and intellect permeated the culture of medieval England, and from 1180 to 1540 contributed to a homogeneous cultural expression, particularly in the architecture of the cathedral. Cathedral architecture developed as a response to the zeitgeist of the era; there was little concept of individual artistic expression or creativity. The result is a lasting representation, in built form, of the theology, philosophy, and epistemology of a civilisation in the Middle Ages in England.
The architecture is presented chronologically, beginning at the end of the 12 th century and culminating at the beginning of the 16 th century. The chronological development is divided into periods, periods which were established by Thomas Rickman in the Attempt to Discriminate the Style of Architecture in England in 1815. The periods are Early English (1180-1250), Early Decorated (1250-1290), Decorated or Curvilinear (1290-1380), and Perpendicular (1380-1540). The names given to the periods by Rickman are not exhaustive or completely accurate in relation to the architecture of the periods, but they suffice to provide the simplest and most accepted way of naming the periods.
John Constable , Salisbury Cathedral from the Bishop ’ s Ground (detail), 1823. Oil on canvas,
87.6 x 111.8 cm. Victoria and Albert Museum, London.
Master of Girart de Roussillon , Building Site , second half of the 15 th century.
Page from the illuminated manuscript Girart de Roussillon:
chanson de geste . Österreichische Nationalbibliothek, Vienna.
Nave, 1093-mid-12 th century. Durham Cathedral.


The chapter “Early English” presents architectural developments at Canterbury, Wells, Lincoln, Winchester, Ely, Beverley, Chester, York, Salisbury, Worcester, Southwell, and Gloucester. Canterbury Cathedral is the first English Gothic cathedral, where the work of William of Sens and William the Englishman marks a departure from Norman or Romanesque precedents, where forms and approaches are invented which would be influential throughout the development of English Gothic architecture. The first phase of building at Wells, including the nave, was contemporary with the first phase of building at Lincoln, and the two buildings represent different departures from the architecture at Canterbury, but each equally and distinctively defining English Gothic architecture, Wells more in its homogeneity and Lincoln more in its syncretism. The east and west transepts at Lincoln show the influence of Canterbury in an experimental approach to spatial relationships and a variety of materials. The rose windows in the west transept, along with the Dean’s Eye and Bishop’s Eye, are the first great examples of stained glass in an English Gothic cathedral. Ely Cathedral was the first to exhibit the influence of Lincoln, visible in the detailing of the west front and the Galilee Porch, in particular the overlapping double arcading. The eastern part of Winchester Cathedral, the Lady Chapel, shows the influence of Lincoln in the early 13 th century. The overlapping double arcade occurs at Beverley Minster, along with Purbeck shafts and openwork arcading, in a purification of the intentions at Lincoln. The elevations of the south transept of York Minster, begun around 1220, are similar to Lincoln and Beverley, as are the elevations of the retrochoir of Worcester Cathedral, built in the 1220s; the vault of Worcester retrochoir is a tierceron vault derived from Lincoln. The motifs of the retrochoir elevations are continued into the choir at Worcester.
The architects of Salisbury Cathedral, Elias of Dereham and Nicholas of Ely, incorporated Lincoln motifs into the new design in the 13 th century, combining them with themes from Wells. The choir of Southwell Minster is based on the Lincoln, or Early English, vocabulary. The presbytery of Ely Cathedral was built under Bishop Hugh of Northwold, a friend of Robert Grosseteste, Bishop of Lincoln. The presbytery is seen as an intermediary in the development from the Lincoln nave, by Alexander the Mason, to the Lincoln Angel Choir, by Simon Thirsk. The vault of the Ely presbytery is a copy of the Lincoln nave vault. It is possible that the vault of St Hugh’s Choir at Lincoln, the “crazy vault”, as it is called, was rebuilt in the 1240s, after the collapse of the tower in 1237 or 1239. The vaulting, probably from an earlier design, perhaps by Geoffrey de Noyers, introduced the ridge pole, tierceron (“third rib”, or non-structural rib), and triradial vault (three ribs converging at a boss on the ridge pole), in the only major asymmetrical vaulting in a Gothic cathedral. The vaulting of the nave at Lincoln and the chapter house introduce new elements into the vocabulary of English Gothic architecture. The nave vault of Gloucester Cathedral, completed around 1242, is a Lincoln-style tierceron vault built on a Norman arcade.
The chapter on the Decorated period includes details of the architecture at Wells, Lincoln, Salisbury, York, and Southwell. The Decorated period introduces variations to the Early English motifs. In the mid-13 th century, similar diapering or reticulation appears at Lincoln, Westminster Abbey, and Hereford Cathedral, displaying the “handwriting” of linear patterns. The nave of Westminster Abbey, begun in 1253, combines Lincoln and French influences, with a Lincoln-style tierceron vault. The stairwell to the chapter house at Wells, begun in 1255, contains elements of the Lincoln vocabulary – Purbeck shafts, ridge pole, transverse ribs. The Angel Choir of Lincoln, begun in 1256 by Simon Thirsk or Richard of Stowe, combines the Lincoln nave with the Ely presbytery, with an increased amount of architectural and sculptural detailing, as well as arcading and bar tracery which creates a transparency that can be seen as both a physical transparency and a conceptual or phenomenal transparency, between human intellect and divine intellect. The nave of Salisbury Cathedral contrasts a simple vault with highly-articulated arcades. The chapter house of Salisbury Cathedral, constructed between 1263 and 1279, is based on the model of the Lincoln chapter house, with sixteen ribs forming a cone at the centre blooming into the vault.
Nave, facing east, 1235-1245. Lincoln Cathedral.


The architecture of the chapter house at York Minster, between 1275 and 1290, represents significant departures from the Early English style. It includes overhanging canopies and foliate corbels which can be seen as “pendants”, a motif developed later in the Perpendicular period. The vault of the chapter house at York is a centralised tierceron and lierne vault (the lierne is a segment of a non-structural rib). At Exeter Cathedral, the vault of the Lady Chapel shows the influence of Lincoln. The Bishop of Exeter at the time, Bishop Quivil, was present at Lincoln Cathedral in 1280 for the consecration of the Angel Choir. The profusion of tiercerons in the vaulting at Exeter suggest the fan vault to come. Vaulting in the retrochoir aisle at Exeter presents a syncopated composition which refers back to vaulting at Canterbury and Lincoln. It is possible that masons at Exeter also worked at Lincoln. The carvings in the chapter house at Southwell Minster, celebrated by Nikolaus Pevsner as the “leaves of Southwell”, present one of the most complete fusions of the human being and nature, or geometry and organic forms, to be found in architecture. The vault of the chapter house is a centralised lierne star vault.
The next chapter, “Curvilinear”, examines architectural details at Southwell, Exeter, York, Wells, Norwich, Bristol, Gloucester, Tewkesbury Abbey, Ely, St Mary Redcliffe, Beverley, Ottery St Mary, Chester, and Worcester. The Curvilinear period begins in the last decade of the 13 th century. The vault of St Mary Undercroft of St Stephen’s Chapel in Westminster Palace, designed by Michael or Thomas of Canterbury, established an important precedent for the development of lierne vaulting, a defining motif of the Curvilinear and Perpendicular. A lierne vault in the transept of St Mary Redcliffe in Bristol represents a new level of detachment of the vault pattern from the vault structure. Vaulting in the Lady Chapel and retrochoir aisles of Exeter introduce new variations, as do the elevations of the York nave. The chapter house at Wells combines the Early English model with Curvilinear tracery, combining geometrical and organic forms. At the turn of the century, flying ribs which appear in Bristol Cathedral can be related to the tiny flying ribs in the Easter Sepulcher at Lincoln, and to the experiments in spatial vistas at Lincoln and Canterbury. The vault in the choir at Bristol is a lierne vault with conoid or cone-shaped bundles of springer ribs, tiercerons and transverse ridge ribs, as developed from Lincoln. The elevations of the Exeter choir, between 1300 and 1310, can be seen as Decorated variations of Lincoln nave arcades, with stonework grilles.
The nave vault at Bristol, reconstructed in the 19 th century, is a tierceron vault. The flying rib appears again in the antechamber of the Berkeley Chapel in Bristol Cathedral, designed by William Joy in 1310. The nave elevations at Worcester are based on the nave elevations of Lincoln. The pulpitum of Lincoln represents an early example of the use of the ogee arch and carved decoration associated with the Curvilinear style. The pulpitum at Exeter, designed by Thomas Witney, incorporates ogee arches, cusping (decoration on the edge of the tracery) and crocketing (foliate decoration on the vertical edge), and a lierne vault. The nave vault of Tewkesbury Abbey combines the lierne patterns of St Mary Redcliffe with the thick ribs of Exeter to create a catechism of the vault of the cosmos, as an architectonic texture in the form of a “net” vault. The pulpitum at Southwell Minster contains flying ribs, ogee arches and crocketed gables, and fragments of architectural vocabulary elements which produce a literary or poetic architecture.
Crossing vault and lantern, c. 1322-1336. Ely Cathedral.
Stained-glass window. Canterbury Cathedral.


The Lady Chapel at Wells, by Thomas Witney, is a composition based on the Early English vocabulary (umbrella column, ridge rib, tierceron, lierne), with a domed vault with liernes forming an eight-pointed star pattern, similar to patterns found in contemporary illuminations, as a representation of the celestial vault. The adjoining retrochoir, by William Joy, contains clusters of Purbeck piers. The arcade of the Lady Chapel of Ely is composed of nodding, cusped ogee arches and crocketed gables in the Curvilinear style. The vault of the Ely Lady Chapel is a tierceron vault with lierne star patterns, resulting in a crystalline organic form. The vault of the Ely choir is a lierne star vault, based on vaulting at Lincoln and St Mary Undercroft. The octagonal crossing at Ely, designed by Alan of Walsingham and topped by a timber lantern designed by William Hurley, is the most elaborate composition of the Curvilinear style, creating a geometrical and material progression from the material world to the spiritual world. The vault of the North Porch of St Mary Redcliffe is a centralised tierceron vault taking on the appearance of a crystalline organic form. The remodelled south transept of Gloucester, from 1331 to 1336, is seen as the first manifestation of the Perpendicular style, with its vertical panelling and mullions, and tracery, derived from the exterior elevations of St Stephen’s Chapel, but with Curvilinear elements such as ogee arches and cusping. The vault in the Gloucester transept is a lierne net vault, taking on the form of an organic structure based on underlying geometrical and mathematical proportions.
The choir vault of Wells, built by William Joy between 1333 and 1340, introduces a geometrical net pattern which displays a dematerialisation through surface texture. The lierne star patterns in the choir aisle vaults suggest a crystalline form or cosmic diagram. The Percy Tomb at Beverley Minster is a masterpiece of the Curvilinear style, with nodding ogee arches, cusping and crocketing. The nave vault of St Mary Redcliffe is a development of the transept vault there, with liernes zigzagging, folding, and undulating across an uneven vault surface. Between 1337 and 1367 the elevations of the choir and presbytery of Gloucester were covered with Perpendicular panelling, and densely textured lierne net vaulting was designed by William Ramsey, taking to an extreme the vault as surface texture. The choir and nave vaults of Ottery St Mary were designed by William Joy, showing the influence of the Wells choir vault. William Joy’s nave vault at Exeter is a Lincoln-style vault with the tiercerons increased in size and density, suggesting organic form. The vault of the south transept of Chester, from around 1350 (restored) is a Lincoln-style vault, as is the nave vault at Worcester.
The first full fan vault in English Gothic architecture was constructed in the Gloucester cloister between 1351 and 1364, attributed to Thomas of Cambridge. The fan vaulting can be seen as a logical consequence of the development from the tierceron vault, as it consists of conoid bundles of tiercerons with liernes applied to the surface. The fan vaulting merges the geometrical and organic, the human mind and nature, or the human mind and the divine mind, with underlying geometrical matrixes. The original nave vault of York Minster, replaced by a timber reproduction in the 19 th century, is a simplified version of the tierceron vault. Tierceron and lierne patterns fluctuate, as do the concave surfaces of the vault. The vault was painted to symbolise the vault of the cosmos. A more complex version of the vaulting appeared in the choir and retrochoir of York, continuing the fluctuating patterns. Openwork arcading in the presbytery at Norwich recalls the treatments of Geoffrey de Noyers at Lincoln and William the Englishman at Canterbury, in their dematerialisation and experiments in spatial vistas. Vaults in the transepts at Worcester also appropriate the Lincoln or Early English vocabulary.
The Perpendicular, the subject of the final chapter, is the last period or style in the continuous development of English Gothic architecture from the precedents at Canterbury and Lincoln. The chapter on the Perpendicular style includes details at Tewkesbury Abbey, Lincoln, Gloucester, Beverley, Winchester, Worcester, Sherborne Abbey, Norwich, Peterborough, Bristol, Chester, York, Oxford Divinity School, Oxford Christ Church, Salisbury, Wells, Ely, Bath Abbey, and Cambridge King’s College Chapel. The Curvilinear and Perpendicular overlap, as elements of the Perpendicular appear in the early 14 th century. The Perpendicular style is dominated by vertical lines, linear patterns, repeated cusped panels, the lierne rib, and overlapping ogee curves forming reticulated patterns.
The choir vault at Tewkesbury Abbey, from between 1375 and 1390, is a tierceron vault with lierne star patterns composed of curved liernes, which are segments of ogee arches, blurring the distinction between organic and inorganic, structure and pattern. The vault in the crossing at Tewkesbury is a centralised lierne vault in the form of a mandala, a cosmological catechism with octagons and squares and a figure of the sun in the centre, symbolising emanation and creation, and synthesising Christian theology and classical philosophy. The vaulting in the crossing tower of Lincoln Cathedral synthesises the Lincoln vocabulary elements – conoid springers, tiercerons, liernes, and ridge ribs – to form what could be read as a catechism of the celestial hierarchies, or the vaulting of the cosmos.
Retrochoir, 1174-1179. Canterbury Cathedral.


The Founder’s Chantry at Tewkesbury Abbey contains an early model of the fan vault, with vaulting ribs as applied decoration, and Perpendicular grillwork. The Beauchamp Chantry at Tewkesbury Abbey features fan vaults with pendants in its lower and upper levels. The pendant becomes a defining vocabulary element of the Perpendicular style, as in the vaults at Oxford Divinity School and Oxford Christ Church, Cambridge King’s College Chapel, St George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle, and the Henry VII Chapel at Westminster Abbey. The pendant can be seen as a development of hanging corbels, as in the York chapter house, the gradual minimalisation of responds in elevations, or the removal of the umbrella column from the umbrella vault. The pendant is a hanging vaulting corbel with no support, and can be related to experiments at Canterbury and Lincoln. The west cloister walk of Worcester Cathedral, built by John Chapman between 1435 and 1438, contains vaulting composed of conoid tierceron springers, the ridge pole, transverse ribs, and lierne octagons. The choir vault of Sherborne Abbey is the first full-span fan vault. The vault of the Norwich nave contains zigzagging liernes and lierne star patterns. The vaulting of the presbytery of Peterborough is a lierne net vault similar to the St Mary Redcliffe choir vault, with the emphasis on surface texture. The nave vault of Winchester Cathedral, designed by Robert Hulle, is a stellar lierne vault with zigzagging liernes, as in St Mary Redcliffe nave or Norwich nave.
The remodelling of the crossing of Gloucester Cathedral between 1450 and 1475 by Robert Tully, features mid-air stone ogee arches set on flat four-centred arches, supporting pendant conoid springers of a lierne net vault. The arches appear to be a development of the flying rib, continuing experiments in spatial juxtapositions which began at Canterbury and Lincoln, but with a Perpendicular vocabulary. The crossing vault at Bristol Cathedral is a centralised lierne star vault, the pattern of which is continued in the transepts, with tiercerons and lierne diamonds. The crossing vault at York Minster is also a centralised lierne vault. The choir vault at Norwich consists of lierne star patterns and tiercerons which spring from the peaks of window heads in the clerestory, or hang from the vault like pendants, creating the effect that the elevations are suspended from the vault. The nave vault of Sherborne Abbey, designed by William Smyth, interweaves tiercerons, lierne patterns, and fans, in a summation of the vocabulary in the development of English Gothic vaulting.
The vault of the Divinity School of the Bodleian Library at Oxford University is a pendant lierne vault designed by William Orchard in 1478. The vault is divided by bundled transverse ribs which appear to be almost flying ribs; spandrels between are decorated with openwork tracery. William Orchard also designed the vault of Christ Church choir at Oxford University, a pendant lierne net vault, with similar transverse ribs suggesting flying ribs, and pendants attached to the transverse ribs as secondary corbels. The crossing vault at Salisbury is a centralised cusped lierne net vault; the crossing vault at Wells, designed by William Smyth, is a centralised fan vault. Bishop Alcock’s Chapel in Ely Cathedral, designed in 1488 by either Adam Lord, Adam Vertue, or Robert Janyns, features a fan vault influenced by St George’s Chapel, with pendant cusping and an undulating canopy screen filled with crocketed gables, ogee arches, and filigree tracery. The composition combines recognisable vocabulary elements into an unprecedented form filled with overlappings and spatial juxtapositions. The vault of Bishop Langton’s Chapel at Winchester features tiercerons, zigzagging liernes, and cusped tracery. The vaulting in the retrochoir or “New Building” of Peterborough was designed by John Wastell, designer of the vaulting of King’s College Chapel at Cambridge University. The vault at Peterborough is composed of steep conoid sections of fans decorated with tiercerons and reticulated tracery in the Perpendicular style.
The vaulting at Bath Abbey was designed by Robert and William Vertue and constructed between 1504 and 1508, and restored by Sir George Gilbert Scott in the 1860s. The vaulting consists of steep conoid tierceron springer vaults or fans, transverse ribs, cusped tracery, and pendants. The fan vault of King’s College Chapel, the largest fan vault in the world, was designed by John Wastell in 1508. Fans are intersected by transverse arches and segmented by thin transverse ridge lines, and are covered by a tracery of cusped arches and reticulation. The final fan vault in English Gothic architecture is the vault of the Dorset Aisle of Ottery St Mary, featuring thick tiercerons and cusped ogee arch tracery. The upper parts of the fans can also be read as canted spandrels alongside the ridge ribs. The fan vaults at Bath, Cambridge, and Ottery bring English Gothic architecture to a close, in the wake of the Renaissance, and a cultural shift in ideas and outlooks, as well as approaches to architecture. The consistent cultural approach to knowledge and built forms, which produced a homogeneous development throughout the late Middle Ages in England, resulted in what is among the most extraordinary architecture in the history of the world.
Chapel interior, elevations 1444-1485, vaulted 1508-1515. King’s College, Cambridge.
Courtyard. Canterbury Cathedral.


Early English


The eastern part of Canterbury Cathedral was destroyed by fire in September of 1174, as documented by Gervase of Canterbury, one of the monks. That part of the cathedral was rebuilt between 1175 and 1185, which was also documented by Gervase. According to him, the monks of Canterbury summoned masons from England and France, and were impressed by the French mason William of Sens, who decided to demolish the Norman arcades and clerestory which survived the fire. Gervase chronicled the construction year by year. In 1175, two piers on each side of the west end of the choir were constructed. In the next year an additional pier was added on each side, with arches and supporting aisle vaults for the first three bays. Two more bays were added the following year, along with a gallery, clerestory, and vault for the first five bays of the choir. In 1178, the sixth bay of the choir and the transept were constructed. The building project went smoothly for the entire ten years, except for the accident of William of Sens in 1178, when he fell from scaffolding while supervising work on the vault over the high altar, after having completed the sixth bay of the choir and the transepts, which forced him to retire to France, and to be replaced by William the Englishman. The new architect completed a new crypt by 1181, and began construction of the outer walls of the Trinity Chapel. The piers for the chapel were completed by the next year, and the walls of the Corona behind it, Becket ’ s Crown .
The shrine of Thomas Becket, who was murdered in the cathedral in 1170 and canonised as St Thomas of Canterbury in 1173, was added to the short Norman choir built under Bishop Lanfranc (1070-1077), after the Norman Conquest, which consisted of two bays and an apse, and was extended in the 12 th century under Bishop Anselm (St Anselm, Archbishop of Canterbury, 1093-1109) and Bishop Conrad (Prior Conrad, d. 1127) to include a pair of eastern transepts and the chapels of St Anselm and St Andrew. The body of Thomas Becket, which was originally buried in the crypt, was placed in the new shrine, Trinity Chapel, built by William the Englishman, in 1220. For the Trinity Chapel, William the Englishman followed the main lines of the choir.
Becket was murdered after he returned from exile in Sens, which resulted from his arguments with King Henry II. In the north transept of the crossing, four knights, acting in support of the king, stabbed Becket to death. Afterwards, a hair shirt swarming with lice was found under his robe. He was recognised as a saint, and Henry II performed penance at his tomb, being flagellated by monks. The tomb of Thomas Becket became the most important pilgrimage destination in medieval England, as Becket became a symbol of resistance to tyrannical authority. The Canterbury Tales of Chaucer were inspired by the journey along the Pilgrim’s Way from London to Canterbury to see the shrine. So many offerings accumulated at the shrine that by 1538, when it was destroyed by Henry VIII, who was determined to destroy the symbol of resistance to the king, twenty-six wagons were required to cart all the offerings away.
Stained-glass windows, called the Becket Miracle Windows, were installed around Trinity Chapel. Completed by 1220, the windows portray images of pilgrimage and miracles associated with Becket. A Becket Window was also installed in Chartres Cathedral in France in the early 13 th century, illustrating the exploits and death of the saint in 1170. Earlier stained-glass windows at Chartres include the Blue Virgin Window, the Jesse Window, and the Life of Christ Window, all installed around 1150.
The importance of Canterbury was established long before the murder of Becket. In 597 CE, the missionary St Augustine was sent by Pope Gregory from Rome to Canterbury to convert England to Christianity. He gave a sermon to the Anglo-Saxon King of Kent, Ethelbert, and later that year Ethelbert was baptised, according to St Bede the Venerable’s history of England. Augustine became the first Archbishop of Canterbury, and Canterbury became the see of the primate of England. Following the Norman Conquest, the Archbishops Lanfranc and Anselm, who initiated the building of the great cathedral, would also come to be considered the fathers of English Scholasticism, based on their writings and sermons. Archbishop Lanfranc built the largest monastery in England, with a complex of Benedictine buildings, including a cloister, chapter house, dormitory, refectory, and cellarer’s lodgings on the north side of the cathedral.
Choir, 1175-1185. Canterbury Cathedral.


The rebuilding of the eastern end of Canterbury was directed by William of Sens, a French architect who imported stone from Caen in Normandy for the project, from 1174 to 1179 . William of Sens’ work consists of the choir, which contains stalls for the monks across five bays between the central tower and the eastern crossing; the presbytery or retrochoir, across three bays east of the crossing, with a high altar raised on a few steps; and a final bay of the presbytery, containing the throne of St Augustine, the first Archbishop of Canterbury in the 6 th century . William of Sens was able to replace the piers in the new French Gothic style, but he was limited to the original Norman plan. The resulting new building was much higher, with thinner proportions, pointed arches, and a ribbed vault. While Gothic elements appeared at Durham , and at Ripon and Roche Abbey, Yorkshire, around 1170, the choir of William of Sens is considered to be the earliest surviving Gothic building in England.
The architecture is a compromise between the desire to build a new cathedral in a French style, and existing local requirements. The architecture is French in that it has a semicircular ambulatory, flying buttresses hidden under the aisle roofs, coupled columns, acanthus capitals, and two-bay sexpartite vaults. While the walls along the plan are thick Norman walls, with thick piers alternating between cylindrical and octagonal, a combination repeated in the sculpted capitals, the height of the arcade suggests the French cathedral; it comprises about sixty percent of the elevation, and the gallery and clerestory above look diminished in relation to it. Responds rising from the cylindrical columns support transverse ribs which transform a quadripartite vault into a sexpartite vault in the French style, but the continuity of the French system is interrupted by the alternating piers. A single shaft supports the extra transverse ribs, while tripartite bundled shafts support the diagonal ribs and the main transverse ribs, creating an alternation which expresses the hierarchy of supports, as at Notre Dame in Paris or Laon.
The ribs of the vault rise from corbels with alternating square and canted abaci, corresponding to the alternating circular and octagonal piers at the bottom of the respective responds. The square abaci are placed on top of the single slender shafts, which support the extra transverse ribs which intersect with the diagonal ribs at a boss along the ridge line of the vault, while the canted abaci are placed on the tripartite bundled shafts, which support the diagonal ribs and the main transverse ribs which delimit the bays of the vault. The corbels are placed at the bottom of the round arches of the gallery, at the same level of the abaci of the arches and sub-arches, so the springing of the vault is carried to below the base of the clerestory, in contradiction to French standards. The diagonal ribs receive the most well-articulated support. The responds rest on top of the abaci of the piers, propped up on their projecting ledges, as in contemporary French cathedrals, such as Notre Dame in Paris (similar arrangements can also be found at Ripon, Reims, Laon, Senlis, Sens, and Vézelay). While the arcade is extended and the gallery is well-articulated with arches set in arches and doubled Purbeck columns, the clerestory is pushed back behind Purbeck columns and almost hidden under the severies of the vault.
The sexpartite vault was the first in England, and its use was short-lived, as variations developed by the end of the 12 th century, beginning with the ridge rib at Lincoln. The sexpartite vault was used at St Denis in France in the 1140s, and at Senlis and Noyon, though those vaults have not survived. The best example of the sexpartite vault in France can be found at Sens, though it was partially reconstructed in the 13 th century. As at Canterbury, the diagonal ribs at Sens are semicircular arcs, and the transverse ribs are pointed and all the same pitch, reducing the thrust of the vault. Unlike Canterbury, the shafts in the elevation are designed to correspond to the static forces from the ribs; they rise from the ground, and continue in front of the clerestory, forming a complete skeletal structure, as opposed to the variety of subdivisions to which the shafts are subjected in the elevation of the Canterbury choir. This is made possible in part at Sens by the use of the flying buttress, which allowed the vault to be supported without a heavily articulated clerestory level, like the one at Canterbury, and allowed for greater expanse of glass in the clerestory, thus more light. The profiles of the ribs at Sens were excessive and inconsistent, and this problem was corrected at Notre Dame in Paris, begun in 1163. The culmination of the development of the sexpartite vault in France occurred at Bourges, begun 1172, and soon thereafter it was replaced by the quadripartite vault, as the additional thrusts were no longer needed in the development of the flying buttress.
Corona (Becket’s Crown), 1175-1182. Canterbury Cathedral.
St Hugh’s Choir. Lincoln Cathedral.
West front. Lincoln Cathedral.
Angel Choir, 1256-1280. Lincoln Cathedral.
Choir and Angel Choir vaults. Lincoln Cathedral.


Along with the sexpartite vault, the proportions of the elevations in the choir, the profiles of the bases and archivolts, and paired columns with attached shafts, have been cited as derived from the cathedral at Sens, the home town of the architect in France. The cathedral at Sens had an important symbolic connection to Canterbury, as it was where Thomas Becket spent his years in exile, and it contained the only important relics of Becket outside of Canterbury, namely his mass vestments. The necessity to build in relation to the original Norman church at Canterbury prevented the result from being French Gothic architecture, so the architecture consists of elements of pure French Gothic architecture, distorted French Gothic architecture, and local Norman traditions. The upper walls of the elevations at Canterbury are much thicker than in France; they are supported by transverse arches in the galleries and aisles, and an internal passage above in the clerestory. This combination has some precedent in Norman churches, and in French churches like Laon, so, as in other details, the architecture is a compromise between French and Norman traditions. Many of the decorative motifs used by William of Sens, including chevron and roll mouldings on the vault ribs, dogtooth in the stringcourses, waterleaf capitals, and polished Purbeck marble shafts, are derived from previous work at the cathedral under Prior Wilbert (1153-1174), which is classified as Romanesque. Wilbert supervised several changes to the Norman cathedral, and the construction of the Infirmary Chapel and the Treasury. French influences were already present in the work under Wilbert, and many of the masons and sculptors continued on with William of Sens, perhaps further inspired by his origins.
Along with stone from Normandy, William of Sens made liberal use of polished Purbeck marble (fossiliferous limestone from the south coast of England) for shafts and stringcourses, as did his successor from 1179 to 1184, William the Englishman, set against a light-coloured stone background. The eclectic polyphony of French and Norman themes, materials, colours, and patterns, was to be very influential in the development of English Gothic architecture, establishing a precedent for pattern and texture. The influence can be seen in a new nave and choir at Chichester after a fire in 1187, with piers surrounded by freestanding Purbeck marble shafts. The influence can be seen in the retrochoir of Winchester Cathedral, built between 1189 and 1204, and a new presbytery at Rochester, built in 1214, with sexpartite vaults. The influence can be seen in the nave at Lincoln Cathedral in the height of the arcade, the archivolts of the pointed arcade arches, the Purbeck marble shafts around the piers, and the bundled responds which rise from each pier to approximately the same height of the arcaded gallery.
William of Sens’ choir aisles are two-storied, because he preserved the original windows and arcading from the choir built under Anselm. The responds in the first level are the original, while the responds in the second level were designed by William. In the triforium, trefoil windows replace the original tribune windows. William inserted an arcaded interior wall passage above the aisles and behind the clerestory, a motif which did not exist in France. The wall passage provides additional support for the vault, independent of the buttressing. The presbytery of William of Sens was complete by 1178, including ten piers for the three bays and altar, aisle vaults, gallery, and clerestory. The design of the elevations is the same as the choir, based on contemporary French architecture, except for a more elaborate and experimental treatment of the freestone piers and attached marble shafts (the fact that they were experimental is shown by the fact that the designs were revised more than once during construction).
From the eastern crossing, the first piers are encased in a number of thin Purbeck marble shafts with acanthus capitals, which continue through the arcade level, similar to Notre Dame in Paris. The second pier is a simple, thick, cylindrical pier with a Byzantine version of a composite Roman capital. The third pier is octagonal with widely spaced, thin, attached Purbeck shafts, then a pier consisting of coupled columns with attached marble shafts, then finally a pier which is octagonal at the floor but becomes circular halfway up. The design of the aisle vaults of the presbytery is experimental as well, with lopsided five-part vaults on the north side, connecting the original Norman aisle wall with a new arcade, and distorted quadripartite vaults on the south side. This experimental vaulting can be seen as a precedent for the ”crazy vault” of St Hugh ’ s Choir at Lincoln Cathedral, believed to have been designed by Geoffrey de Noyers, who was trained at Canterbury. The vaults in the north presbytery aisle at Canterbury connect two bays of the Norman aisle with one bay of the new arcade, so William set additional responds in the aisle wall and created a ribbed groin vault, as at Durham, with transverse ribs which are not parallel, and a fifth rib in each bay which is a transverse rib in the severy on the aisle wall side. According to Gervase of Canterbury, this was necessitated by the preservation of the eastern towers above the chapels of St Anselm and St Andrew, which formed part of the Norman ambulatory.
South-west transept. Lincoln Cathedral.


In the design of the Trinity Chapel, William the Englishman did not have to conform to any pre-existing Norman conditions. A shrine was necessary for the martyred St Thomas, who had already become a popular cult figure, and the shrine was placed directly above the tomb in the crypt where Thomas was previously buried. The floor level was raised above the high altar to create a procession through the choir and presbytery, culminating in the Trinity Chapel and Corona. For an unknown reason, the aisles of the chapel are not parallel, and the arcades bow outwards from the presbytery arcade walls of William of Sens. The chapel is supported by the massive walls of the crypt below, which is spacious because of the raised floor level.
The Trinity Chapel above is filled with richly coloured marbles, sculpture, and sparkling stained-glass, creating a luxuriant opulence, an opulence that could originally be found in many English Gothic cathedrals, as walls and furnishings were often originally painted to create a colourful fantasia in combination with the stained-glass windows. The clerestory and gallery of the chapel are the same as in the presbytery, with the minimal amount of masonry in the clerestory, just twin slender piers modelled on the clerestory of Sens, to maximise the light in the chapel. The vault behind the arcade is not supported by the outer aisle wall; instead its ribs terminate on freestanding bundles of shafts, and a passage, wide enough to walk through, is inserted between them and the exterior wall, which is filled with tall, lancet stained-glass windows. William the Englishman rejected the thick wall arcade of William of Sens, and dematerialised the architecture to allow the chapel to be flooded with light. The vaults are separated from the wall to create a skeletal structure, which was made possible by one of the earliest uses of the flying buttress.
The dematerialisation is reminiscent of the ambulatory of Abbot Suger at St Denis north of Paris, where arcade walls are replaced by thin arcade shafts. The Abbot Suger is believed to have been inspired by the light mysticism of Pseudo-Dionysus, to allow the worshipper to enjoy the presence of light as much as possible, to signify the presence of God, but the most important thing that St Denis and the Trinity Chapel have in common is their function as national shrines, so the light would play an important role in the illumination of ritual nationalistic ceremony. The same would be true later in the Sainte-Chapelle in Paris, and at Westminster Abbey. The skeletal structure of the chapel aisles, considered to be William the Englishman’s most important innovation as an architect, establishes an important precedent for experiments in later English Gothic architecture, at Bristol and Gloucester, for example, where the vaulting arrangement becomes independent of the structure it is supporting, and independent of a structural system altogether, as in the pendant vault.
Above the arcade in the Trinity Chapel at Canterbury, the gallery of the presbytery is transformed into a triforium with a wall passage, and William of Sens’ system of paired arches each with paired sub-arches is replaced by a series of thin lancets with pointed arches, archivolts, and sub-arches with their own supporting shafts on either side of the main shaft, as opposed to a shaft in the centre in William of Sens’ scheme. The effect, based on the triforium of Laon Cathedral, continues the effect of the arcade vaulting: it is a more skeletal, attenuated, dematerialised system, more rigorous mathematically, and less decorative. The Corona, or Becket’s Crown, continues the themes of the chapel: dematerialisation and light, with tiers of arcaded galleries and extra light through the clerestory. William of Sens was the last important French architect to work in England (except perhaps Henry of Reyns at Westminster Abbey and Windsor in the 13 th century), and the immediate influence of French architecture in the development of English Gothic architecture ends at Canterbury, until at least it is taken up again at Westminster in the Decorated style. To the extent that French motifs would be employed at Lincoln Cathedral, such as the sexpartite vault, they are subject to extreme revision, and rendered unrecognisable. Nevertheless, the sexpartite vault, elevation scheme, bundled shafts, and experimental spatial relationships of Canterbury are continued at Lincoln.
South-east transept. Lincoln Cathedral.