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Sacred Medieval Architecture

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After the fall of the Roman Empire the political atmosphere was transformed in Western Europe. As the West witnessed a change, brought about by the constant invasion of barbarians, the Eastern Roman Empire remained intact and grew incredibly prosperous. The Eastern Empire had much closer ties between the state and the Christian Church. These ties lead to many elaborate Byzantine churches being built in Constantinople, emphasizing the importance of the Eastern Church in everyday life.

The Byzantine architecture maintains a sense of well-balanced proportions and favors a more simple approach to the building’s exterior. The Byzantines established an architectural style, different from the Romans generally by plans that were well thought out and intricate ("Western Architecture" p.138-139). One of the most important works of Byzantine architecture is the Hagia Sophia. The Hagia Sophia, which took less than six years to build, was one of the largest Christian churches in the world. In order to build the dome that crowns the magnificent structure, builders needed to use pendentive construction, a technique that the Byzantines invented which involves mounting a dome over a square chamber. Once inside the Hagia Sophia the amount of elaborate detail in the mosaics, impressive columns, and awe inspiring half domes it is easy to see the importance the people placed on religion.

Examples of Byzantine architectural inspiration can also be found in Italy. The city of Ravenna, which lays on the East coast of northern Italy, was subject to Byzantine influence. Ravenna has the most well-kept Byzantine style art. The Church of San Vitale, built during the reign of Justinian, is octagonal and features a central-plan of its walls and dome b...

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Gothic architecture thrived in Western Europe, predominantly in the north. Gothic churches are distinguished from the Romanesque style in their more elaborate appearance. Sculpture on Gothic churches is found on the surface, including ornaments, figures, and narrative scenes.

The cathedral at Chartres is considered to be the first work of High Gothic architecture (Coldstream p.140). The church’s vertical design has a three-part division, the nave arcade, the triforium, and the clerestory windows. The rose window, which was to represent the Virgin Mary, was framed in tracery and filled with different colored glass.

Sacred Medieval architecture went through many changes throughout its period. From Byzantine to Gothic the architecture of sacred buildings continued show the importance that was placed on religion and the power religion had on its people.
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