The Gothic cathedrals, St.Denis, Amiens, Chartres. Architectural prescription and analysis of the symbols.
Ioanna Kalantzi, college graduate from the Department of Plastic Art & Art Science of the University of Ioannina in Greece

 At the Medieval Times a very notable rhythm with a catholic character appeared. It is the Universal Gothic Style. Chronically, it covers the 10th -12th century. This church is of major importance in the history of architecture, being the first major edifice marking the transition from the Romanesque to the Gothic Style. Representative example of this architectonical style is the gothic church of St. Denis, which also gave his name to the town. The town of St. Denis is a northern suburb of Paris.

The temple was founded by king Daborget of the Capetian’s dynasty and it is dedicated to St. Denis, who according to the tradition of France was the Apostle of Galatia. The temple was constructed at 1122, and his original type was a small, old and damaged Carolingian monastery. The official chronology of his reconstruction is about to 1135-1140 by Abbot Syger.

At this temple it is observed that his architectural expansion starts from the Westside to the eastside of the building and this is a breakthrough for the method of the construction of gothic temples in general. After this fact, all the temples in Europe were constructed according to this method which was and the official way of their construction. The narthex of the temple built at the Westside of the temple and a new choir was added which substituted the previous Carolingian construction. The substitution of the old Carolingian monastery completed in 1140. In spite of this fact, the ambulatory and the chapels maintained their original style. Also, a new ambulatory was constructed and united the radial chapels with the central nave of the church. This new formulation gave flexibility to the temple.

Furthermore, we have the first symbolic elements in the history of Gothic architecture witch appeared in this Early Gothic temple. The scheme of the radial chapels symbolizes the scheme that the Jesus’ Holly thorny crown had. Except for the construction and formulation of the temple we have to stress the charming shading of the edifice which gives to the temple an extraordinary beauty. The role of the light is very important for the temple. The high columns and the stained-glass of the narthex create an impressive illumination to the ambulatory of the church. The visitors are charmed by its intense shading and they are transferred to a mysterious and spiritual atmosphere. The visitors take part in a very especial and secretary climate.

The next edifice that we are going to present is the temple of Amiens. Amiens Cathedral is one of the largest “classic” Gothic churches of the 13th century. It is situated at the north suburbs of France, in the heart of Picardy, next to Valley of Sonnime River. At the Romanian period it was called Samarobrina and it was the central colony of the tribe of Ambriani. Later, it was given the name Acheulean, due to the first and indefinable monument which was founded in this area. After many years it was announced as the capital of the Picardy.

The Cathedral Amiens was built in 1152 with the Romanesque style and burnt in 1218 by lightings. We have to emphasize that due to the lightning of the church, a very important part of the document sources witch explained and analyzed the method of the construction of the church, was ruined. For this reason, it was decided the reconstruction of Amiens Church. The reconstruction of the church was started in about 1220 and it continued until 1258 when a second lightning outburst. This was a drawback for the progress of the works. Finally the reconstruction of the church was completed in 1288. Furthermore, Amiens Cathedral is famous for its dimensions. It is the largest gothic church in Europe. The height of the ceiling is about 42.3m and the width of the nave is about 14.6m.

We have to mention that very important role at the stylistic restoration of all gothic cathedral churches in Europe and among them and in Amiens too, had the architect and specialist in buildings restoration Viollet le Duc (Eugene Emanuel 1814-1879). Violet le Duc was the man who in the 19th century made a revival of the Gothic Style and his aim was to complete the non-finito works of the gothic churches. Apart from his constructive characteristics, it contains a whole symbolic system. We start the analysis of the rose window, witch is situated at the north side of the edifice and it is called “The Heaven’s Rose”. It is based in five arches with triangular ending. We also see that the numbers 3, 4, 5 are used in the roses, the tympanum and the arch of the church.

We have to say that these mentioned numbers are considered to be as holy for the gothic style and it constitute the tradition of the gothic architecture. In addition to, the Southern Rose was the symbol of the Holy Grail and it was related with the Grail’s Myth. Also, it is connected with the sense of the holiness, the spirit and the ancient high arts, such as arithmetic and geometry. Also, famous is the Labyrinth of Amiens. It is placed on the main floor of the central passage of the church. It took his shape from the ancient Greek scheme of “meandrous” and it has his origin to the daidalic labyrinth from the Crete and the ancient Palace of Knossos. His symbol is a vital energy and it has a consecutive scheme. It is a large work of art which is crated with the etching method and it covers the third and the forth floor of the church. Each one part of it has an engraving decoration. Furthermore it is an historical document because in his texture are portrayed four engraving copper figures, which correspond to the three architects who undertook the transaction of the reconstruction of the church and also is appeared the first bishop of the church St. Firmin. Apart from his symbolic context, it also has a religious mission. The monks are using his complicated scheme as a spiritual exercise for their prayer. On the other hand the visitors are praying while they across the room on their knees.

Another one great cultural monument is the Cathedral of Chartres. His history is different from the previous gothic churches. His history has its roots in pre-Christian religious and paganism rituals. The population of the East Europe was very negative to the doctrine of the Catholicism and as a reaction they had adopted the Celtic-dryadic religion.

The basis of this religion was the adoration of Mother of Earth, who had the same meaning as the Blessed Virgin Mary in the Catholic Religion. Also, in historical documents it was referred as an ceremonial place for the adoration of the Dryads, the location “capturum”. After researches that had been made, it was discovered that this pace was the location where the Cathedral of Chartres were built and it was dedicated to Blessed Virgin Mary. The fact is that the figure of Madonna was understated from the catholic and it was not concluded in the Holy Trinity due to her human nature.

According to legend the Cathedral of Chartres has hosed a tunic that has been said to have belonged to the Virgin Mary, the Santa Camisia. This is a valuable and rare religious object and it is the quintessence of the monument.

The construction of the church started in 1194. But, this church is a mixture of many different architectural styles. The lower parts of west portal belong to Romanesque style, but the facades of north and south portals have their origin in the Late gothic style.

After the constructive features of the church we will analyze the religious symbols of the Cathedral of Chartres. At the West Royal Portal we have themes that are based on the platonic theory. It is the theory of the ancient Greek philosopher Platon, who founded a philosophic movement about an idealistic world. Central figure of the artistic synthesis is Jesus who symbolizes the union of the Heaven and the Earth. The most impressive statue of the church is the statue of the “Madonna with the Colored face”. It is situated at the West Portal and it is the unique statue which is colored because it originates from Egypt and it symbolizes Egyptian goddesses such as Osiris and Attis and it was known as the Great Mother. Also it is connected with the Madonna of Mayas. This statue is characteristic for his originality and it is the identity of the Cathedral of Chartres.

As a conclusion we can say that in the movement of gothic architecture pervades the logic of geometry and the mysticism of symbols. For many is considered as a dark period in the history of art but it gave us remarkable works of art.


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The west facade
of St. Denis' Cathedral http://www.artist-at-large.
The ambulatory of St. Denis http://www.armstrong.scu.edu/
The Cathedral Amiens http://www.e.wikipedia.org/wiki/
Architectural design of Amiens Cathedral http://www.learn.columbia.edu
The stained glass of the southern rose window http://www.elore.com/Gothic/
The Labyrinth of Amiens http://www.labyrinth

the West facade of the Cathedral of Chartres http://www.en.wikipedia.org/
The architectural design of the Cathedral of Chartres http://www.en.wikipedia.org/
The statue of Madonna of the Cathedral of Chartres http://www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/