It took a village to build Europe’s Gothic cathedrals

Published November 29, 2022

20 min read

Gothic cathedrals can often render spectators speechless—awestruck by dazzling stained glass, towering ceilings, and engineering marvels. Other visitors might be moved to eloquence, like American filmmaker Orson Welles. He once described France’s Chartres Cathedral as “this rich stone forest, this epic chant, this gaiety, this grand, choiring shout of affirmation.”

Built between the 12th and 16th centuries, these soaring sacred spaces are among Europe’s most popular tourist attractions today. From Notre-Dame de Paris in France to Canterbury Cathedral in England, they attract people from all over the world to gaze at their intricate sculptures, pointed arches, and the marriage between light and air.

The Gothic is perhaps Europe’s most iconic style of Christian architecture. It first emerged in France in the 12th century and then spread across the continent. The Gothic is sometimes described as the ultimate expression of the medieval spirit, reflecting a society so fixed on heaven that it developed pointed arches and buttresses to aspire to the realm of God.

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