The 12th Century saw the move away from the Romanesque architecture which had typified the preceding centuries to the era of the great Gothic cathedrals which were to become the architectural symbol of the middle ages. The transformation was not simply one of size or scope but a manifestation of the cultural shifts which were occurring as the medieval age commenced.
By this time, numbers and geometry had acquired a metaphysical significance and were believed to have occult symbolism and power. The introduction of sacred geometry into all aspects of the design of places of worship was therefore inevitable and from that time key design features such as the numbers of pillars in the choir, the layout of the floor plan and façade were significantly influenced by the perceived significance of these theories. To understand in more depth how numbers and geometry were incorporated into architectural design it is interesting to first consider the characteristics of gothic architecture and in particular why they were such an influence on cathedral design. I will in the following use Chartres cathedral in France as an example which illustrates the impact of these influences.
Political and Economical Background
During the 12th Century, for the first time since the end of the Roman Empire, cities once again began to grow. Their wealth this time was built on the robust economic structures around banking and trade, rather than on conquest and slavery which had characterised the previous centuries. Financial wealth was emerging as the determinant of social standing rather than the historic influence of the church and preceding empires.
The Age of Faith was emerging and knowledge was increasingly informed by both a ...
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...sidered perfect. The original master builder used the shape of the hexagon in deciding where to place the transept walls. All these examples are evidence of the fact that geometry had such a crucial role to play in the design of the cathedral.
In summary it is clear that as geometry and mathematics had become hugely important to the people of the middle ages, due to not only the ideas of philosophers and mathematicians, but also because of the political, economical and theological development of the period. The belief that geometry and number was a link to God was so strong that it influenced the Gothic style in a number of ways. Maybe it is this fact that mathematics was so intentionally incorporated, is one of the main reasons why these cathedrals remain such a great importance to us so many years later, not only as a place of worship, but also as a work of art.
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