Jacques Maritain Center : Greatest of Centuries


The most important portion of the history of the Thirteenth Century and beyond all doubt the most significant chapter in the book of its arts, is to be found in the great Gothic Cathedrals, so many of which were erected at this time and whose greatest perfection of finish in design and in detail came just at the beginning of this wonderful period. We are not concerned here with the gradual development of Gothic out of the older Romanesque architectural forms, nor with the Oriental elements that may have helped this great evolution. All that especially concerns us is the fact that the generations of the Thirteenth Century took the Gothic ideas in architecture and applied them so marvelously, that thereafter it could be felt that no problem of structural work had been left unsolved and no feature of ornament or decoration left untried or at least unsuggested. The great center of Gothic influence was the North of France, but it spread from here to every country in Europe, and owing to the intimate relations existing between England and France because of the presence of the Normans in both countries, developed almost as rapidly and with as much beauty and effectiveness as in the mother country.

It is in fact in England just before the Thirteenth Century, that the spirit which gave rise to the Cathedrals can be best observed at work and its purposes most thoroughly appreciated. The great Cathedral at Lincoln had some of its most important features before the beginning of the Thirteenth Century and this, was doubtless due to the famous St. Hugh of Lincoln, who was a Frenchman by birth and whose experience in Normandy in early life enabled him successfully to set about the creation of a Gothic Cathedral in the country that had become his by adoption. Hugh himself was so great of soul, so deeply interested in his people and their welfare, so ready to make every sacrifice for them even to the extent of incurring the enmity of his King (even Froude usually so unsympathetic to medieval men and things has included him among his Short Studies of Great Subjects), that one cannot help but think that when he devoted himself to the erection of the magnificent Cathedral, he realized very well that it would become a center of influence, not only religious but eminently educational, in its effects upon the people of his diocese. The work was begun then with a consciousness of the results to be attained and the influence of the Cathedral must not be looked upon as accidental. He must have appreciated that the creating of a work of beauty in which the people themselves shared, which they looked on as their own property, to which they came nearly every second day during the year for religious services, would be a telling book out of which they would receive more education than could come to them in any other way.

Of course we cannot hope in a short chapter or two to convey any adequate impression of the work that was done in and for the Cathedrals, nor the even more important reactionary influence they had in educating the people. Ferguson says:{1}

"The subject of the cathedrals, their architecture and decoration is, in fact, practicably inexhaustible. . . . Priests and laymen worked with masons, painters, and sculptors, and all were bent on producing the best possible building, and improving every part and every detail, till the amount of thought and contrivance accumulated in any single structure is almost incomprehensible. If any one man were to devote a lifetime to the study of one of our great cathedrals -- assuming it to be complete in all its medieval arrangements -- it is questionable whether he would master all its details, and fathom all the reasonings and experiments which led to the glorious result before him. And when we consider that not in the great cities alone, but in every convent and in every parish, thoughtful professional men were trying to excel what had been done and was doing, by their predecessors and their fellows, we shall understand what an amount of thought is built into the walls of our churches, castles, colleges, and dwelling houses. If any one thinks he can master and reproduce all this, he can hardly fail to be mistaken. My own impression is that not one tenth part of it has been reproduced in all the works written on the subject up to this day, and much of it is probably lost and never again to be recovered for the instruction and delight of future ages."

This profound significance and charming quality of the cathedrals is usually unrecognized by those who see them only once or twice, and who, though they are very much interested in them for the moment, have no idea of the wealth of artistic suggestion and of thoughtful design so solicitously yet happily put into them by their builders. People who have seen them many times, however, who have lived in close touch with them, who have been away from them for a time and have come back to them, find the wondrous charm that is in these buildings. Architects and workmen put their very souls into them and they will always be of interest. It is for this reason, that the casual visitor at all times and in all moods finds them ever a source of constantly renewed pleasure, no matter how many times they may be seen.

Elizabeth Robbins Pennell has expressed this power of Cathedrals to please at all times, even after they have been often seen and are very well known, in a recent number of the Century, in describing the great Cathedral of Notre Dame, "Often as I have seen Notre Dame," she says, "the marvel of it never grows less. I go to Paris with no thought of time for it, busy about many other things and then on my way over one of the bridges across the river perhaps, I see it again on its island, the beautiful towers high above the houses and palaces and the view now so familiar strikes me afresh with all the wonder of my first impression."

This is we think the experience of everyone who has the opportunity to see much of Notre Dame. The present writer during the course of his medical studies spent many months in daily view of the Cathedral and did a good deal of work at the old Morgue, situated behind the Cathedral. Even at the end of his stay he was constantly finding new beauties in the grand old structure and learning to appreciate it more and more as the changing seasons of a Paris fall and winter and spring, threw varying lights and shadows over it. It was like a work of nature, never growing old, but constantly displaying some new phase of beauty to the passers-by. Mrs. Pennell resents only the restorations that have been made. Generations down even to our time have considered that they could rebuild as beautifully as the Thirteenth Century constructors; some of them even have thought that they could do better, doubtless, yet their work has in the opinion of good critics served only to spoil or at least to detract from the finer beauty of the original plan. No wonder that R. M. Stevenson, who knew and loved the old Cathedral so well, said: "Notre Dame is the only un-Greek thing that unites majesty, elegance, and awfulness." Inasmuch as it does so it is a typical product of this wonderful Thirteenth Century, the only serious rival the Greeks have ever had. But of course it does not stand alone. There are other Cathedrals built at the same time at least as handsome and as full of suggestions. Indeed in the opinion of many critics it is inferior in certain respects to some three or four of the greatest Gothic Cathedrals.

It cannot be possible that these generations builded so much better than they knew, that it is only by a sort of happy accident that their edifices still continue to be the subject of such profound admiration, and such endless sources of pleasure after seven centuries of experience. If so we would certainly be glad to have some such happy accident occur in our generation, for we are building nothing at the present time with regard to which we have any such high hopes. Of course the generations of Cathedral builders knew and appreciated their own work. The triumph of the Thirteenth Century is therefore all the more marked and must be considered as directly due to the environment and the education of its people. We have then in the study of their Cathedrals the keynote for the modern appreciation of the character and the development of their builders.

It will be readily understood, how inevitably fragmentary must be our consideration of the Cathedrals, yet there is the consolation that they are the best known feature of Thirteenth Century achievement and that consequently all that will be necessary will be to point out the significance of their construction as the basis of the great movement of education and uplift in the century. Perhaps first a word is needed with regard to the varieties of Gothic in the different countries of Europe and what they meant in the period.

Probably, the most interesting feature of the history of Gothic architecture, at this period, is to be found in the circumstance that, while all of the countries erected Gothic structures along the general lines which had been laid down by its great inventors in the North and Center of France, none of the architects and builders of the century, in other countries, slavishly followed the French models. English Gothic is is quite distinct from its French ancestor, and while it has defects it has beauties, that are all its own, and a simplicity and grandeur, well suited to the more rugged character of the people among whom it developed. Italian Gothic has less merits, perhaps, than any of the other forms of the art that developed in the different nations. In Italy, with its bright sunlight, there was less crying need for the window space, for the provision of which, in the darker northern countries, Gothic was invented, but, even here the possibilities of decorated architecture along certain lines were exhausted more fully than anywhere else, as might have been expected from the esthetic spirit of the Italians. German Gothic has less refinement than any of the other national forms, yet it is not lacking in a certain straightforward strength and simplicity of appearance, which recommends it. The Germans often violated the French canons of architecture, yet did not spoil the ultimate effect. St. Stephen's in Vienna has many defects, yet as a good architectural authority has declared it is the work of a poet, and looks it.

A recent paragraph with regard to Spanish Gothic in an article on Spain, by Havelock Ellis, illustrates the national qualities of this style very well. As much less is generally known about the special development of Gothic architecture in the Spanish peninsula, it has seemed worth while to quote it at some length:

"Moreover, there is no type of architecture which so admirably embodies the romantic spirit as Spanish Gothic. Such a statement implies no heresy against the supremacy of French Gothic. But the very qualities of harmony and balance, of finely tempered reason, which make French Gothic so exquisitely satisfying, softened the combination of mysteriously grandiose splendor with detailed realism, in which lies the essence of Gothic as the manifestation of the romantic spirit. Spanish Gothic at once by its massiveness and extravagance and by its realistic naturalness, far more potently embodies the spirit of medieval life. It is less esthetically beautiful but it is more romantic. In Leon Cathedral, Spain possesses one of the very noblest and purest examples of French Gothic -- a church which may almost be said to be the supreme type of the Gothic ideal, of a delicate house of glass finely poised between buttresses; but there is nothing Spanish about it. For the typical Gothic of Spain we must go to Toledo and Burgos, to Tarragona and Barcelona. Here we find the elements of stupendous size, of mysterious gloom, of grotesque and yet realistic energy, which are the dominant characters, alike of Spanish architecture and of medieval romance."

Those who think that the Gothic architecture came to a perfection all its own by a sort of wonderful manifestation of genius in a single generation, and then stayed there, are sadly mistaken. There was a constant development to be noted all during the Thirteenth Century. This development was always in the line of true improvement, while just after the century closed degeneration began, decoration became too important a consideration, parts were over-loaded with ornament, and the decadence of taste in Gothic architecture cannot escape the eye even of the most untutored. All during the Thirteenth Century the tendency was always to greater lightness and elegance. One is apt to think of these immense structures as manifestations of the power of man to overcome great engineering difficulties and to solve immense structural problems, rather than as representing opportunities for the expression of what was most beautiful and poetic in the intellectual aspirations of the generations. But this is what they were, and their architects were poets, for in the best sense of the etymology of the word they were creators. That their raw material was stone and mortar rather than words was only an accident of their environment. Each of the architects succeeded in expressing himself with wonderful individuality in his own work in each Cathedral.

The improvements introduced by the Thirteenth Century people into the architecture that came to them, were all of a very practical kind, and were never suggested for the sake of merely adding to opportunities for ornamentation. In this matter, skillful combinations of line and form were thought out and executed with wonderful success. At the beginning of the century, delicate shafts of marble, highly polished, were employed rather freely, but as these seldom carried weight, and were mainly ornamental in character, they were gradually eliminated, yet, without sacrificing any of the beauty of structure since combinations of light and shade were secured by the composition of various forms, and the use of delicately rounded mouldings alternated with hollows, so as to produce forcible effects in high light and deep shadow. In a word, these architects and builders, of the Thirteenth Century, set themselves the problem of building effectively, making every portion count in the building itself, and yet, securing ornamental effects out of actual structure such as no other set of architects have ever been able to surpass, and, probably, only the Greek architects of the Periclean period ever equaled. Needless to say, this is the very acme of success in architectural work, and it is for this reason that the generations of the after time have all gone back so lovingly to study the work of this period.

It might be thought, that while Gothic architecture was a great invention in its time and extremely suitable for ecclesiastical or even educational edifices of various kinds, its time of usefulness has passed and that men's widening experience in structural work, ever since, has carried him far away from it. As a matter of fact, most of our ecclesiastical buildings are still built on purely Gothic lines, and a definite effort is made, as a rule, to have the completed religious edifice combine a number of the best features of Thirteenth Century Gothic. With what success this has been accomplished can best be appeciated from the fact, that none of the modern structures attract anything like the attention of the old, and the Cathedrals of this early time still continue to be the best asset of the towns in which they are situated, because of the number of visitors they attract. Far from considering Gothic architecture outlived, architects still apply themselves to it with devotion because of the practical suggestions which it contains, and there are those of wide experience, who still continue to think it the most wonderful example of architectural development that has ever come, and even do not hesitate to foretell a great future for it.

Reinach, in his Story of Art Throughout the Ages,{2} has been so enthusiastic in this matter that a paragraph of his opinion must find a place here. Reinach, it may be said, is an excellent authority, a member of the Institute of France, who has made special studies in comparative architecture, and has written works that carry more weight than almost any others of our generation:

"If the aim of architecture, considered as an art, should be to free itself as much as possible from subjection to its materials, it may be said that no buildings have more successfully realized this ideal than the Gothic churches. And there is more to be said in this connection. Its light and airy system of construction, the freedom and slenderness of its supporting skeleton, afford, as it were, a presage of an art that began to develop in the Nineteenth Century, that of metallic architecture. With the help of metal, and of cement reinforced by metal bars, the moderns might equal the most daring feats of the Gothic architects. It would even be easy for them to surpass them, without endangering the solidity of the structure, as did the audacities of Gothic art. In the conflicts that obtain between the two elements of construction, solidity and open space, everything seems to show that the principle of free spaces will prevail, that the palaces and houses of the future will be flooded with air and light, that the formula popularized by Gothic architecture has a great future before it, and that following the revival of the Graeco-Roman style from the Sixteenth Century, to our own day, we shall see a yet more enduring renaissance of the Gothic style applied to novel materials."

It would be a mistake, however, to think that the Gothic Cathedrals were impressive only because of their grandeur and immense size. It would be still more a mistake to consider them only as examples of a great development in architecture. They are much more than this; they are the compendious expression of the art impulses of a glorious century. Every single detail of the Gothic Cathedrals is not only worthy of study but deserving of admiration, if not for itself, then always for the inadequate means by which it was secured, and most of these details have been found worthy of imitation by subsequent generations. It is only by considering the separate details of the art work of these Cathedrals that the full lesson of what these wonderful people accomplished can he learned. There have been many centuries since, in which they would be entirely unappreciated. Fortunately, our own time has come back to a recognition of the greatness of the art impulse that was at work, perfecting even what might be considered trivial portions of the cathedrals, and the brightest hope for the future of our own accomplishment is founded on this belated appreciation of old-time work.

It has been said that the medieval workman was a lively symbol of the Creator Himself, in the way in which he did his work. It mattered not how obscure the portion of the cathedral at which he was set, he decorated it as beautifully as he knew how, without a thought that his work would be appreciated only by the very few that might see it. Trivial details were finished with the perfection of important parts. Microscopic studies in recent years have revealed beautiful designs on pollen grains and diatoms which are far beneath the possibilities of human vision, and have only been discovered by lens combinations of very high powers of the compound microscope. Always these beauties have been there though hidden away from any eye. It was as if the Creator's hand could not touch anything without leaving it beautiful as well as useful. To as great extent as it is possible perhaps for man to secure such a desideratum, the Thirteenth Century workman succeeded in this same purpose. It is for this reason more than even for the magnificent grandeur of the design and the skilful execution with inadequate means, that makes the Gothic Cathedral such a source of admiration and wonder.

To take first the example of sculpture. It is usually considered that the Thirteenth Century represented a time entirely too early in the history of plastic art for there to have been any fine examples of the sculptor's chisel left us from it. Any such impression, however, will soon be corrected if one but examines carefully the specimens of this form of art in certain cathedrals. As we have said, probably no more charmingly dignified presentation of the human form divine in stone has ever been made than the figure of Christ above the main door of the cathedral of Amiens, which the Amiennois so lovingly call their "beautiful God." There are some other examples of statuary in the same cathedral that are wonderful specimens of the sculptor's art, lending itself for decorative purposes to architecture. This is true for a number of the Cathedrals. The statues in themselves are not so beautiful, but as portions of a definite piece of structural work such as a doorway or a facade, they are wonderful models of how all the different arts became subservient to the general effect to be produced. It was at Rheims, however, that sculpture reached its acme of accomplishment, and architects have been always unstinted in their praise of this feature of what may be called the Capitol church of France.

Those who have any doubts as to the place of Gothic art in art history and who need an authority always to bolster up the opinion that they may hold, will find ample support in the enthusiastic opinion of an authority whom we have quoted already. The most interesting and significant feature of his ardent expression of enthusiasm is his comparison of Romanesque with Gothic art in this respect. The amount of ground covered from one artistic mode to the other is greater than any other advance in art that has ever 'been made. After all, the real value of the work of the period must be judged, rather by the amount of progress that has been made than by the stage of advance actually reached, since it is development rather than accomplishment that counts in the evolution of the race. On the other hand it will be found that Reinach's opinion of the actual attainments of Gothic art are far beyond anything that used to be thought on the subject a half century ago, and much higher than any but a few of the modern art critics hold in the matter. He says:

"In contrast to this Romanesque art, as yet in bondage to convention, ignorant or disdainful of nature, the mature Gothic art of the Thirteenth Century appeared as a brilliant revival or realism. The great sculptors who adorned the Cathedrals of Paris, Amiens, Rheims, and Chartres with their works, were realists in the highest sense of the word. They sought in nature not only their knowledge of human forms, and of the draperies that cover them, but also that of the principles of decoration. Save in the gargoyles of cathedrals and: in certain minor sculptures, we no longer find in the Thirteenth Century those unreal figures of animals, nor those ornaments, complicated as nightmares, which load the capitals of Romanesque churches; the flora of the country, studied with loving attention, is the sole, or almost the sole source from which decorators take their motives. It is in this charming profusion of flowers and foliage that the genius of Gothic architecture is most freely displayed. One of the most admirable of its creations is the famous Capital of the Vintage in Notre Dame at Rheims, carved about the year 1250. Since the first century of the Roman Empire art had never imitated Nature so perfectly, nor has it ever since done so with a like grace and sentiment."

Reinach defends Gothic Art from another and more serious objection which is constantly urged against it by those who know only certain examples of it, but have not had the advantage of the wide study of the whole field of artistic endeavor in the Thirteenth Century, which this distinguished member of the Institute of France has succeeded in obtaining. It is curions what unfounded opinions have come to be prevalent in art circles because, only too often, writers with regard to the Cathedrals have spent their time mainly in the large cities, or along the principal arteries of travel, and have not realized that some of the smaller towns contained work better fitted to illustrate Gothic Art principles than those on which they depended for their information. If only particular phases of the art of any one time, no matter how important, were to be considered in forming a judgment of it, that judgment would almost surely be unfavorable in many ways because of the lack of completeness of view. This is what has happened unfortunately with regard to Gothic art, but a better spirit is coming in this matter, with the more careful study of periods of art and the return of reverence for the grand old Middle Ages.

Reinach says: "There are certain prejudices against this admirable, though incomplete, art which it is difficult to combat. It is often said, for instance, that all Gothic figures are stiff and emaciated. To convince ourselves of the contrary we need only study the marvelous sculpture of the meeting between Abraham and Melchisedech, in Rheims Cathedral; or again in the same Cathedral, the Visitation, the seated Prophet, and the standing Angel, or the exquisite Magdalen of Bordeaux Cathedral. What can we see in these that is stiff, sickly, and puny? The art that has most affinity with perfect Gothic is neither Romanesque nor Byzantine, but the Greek art of from 500 to 450 B. C. By a strange coincidence, the Gothic artists even reproduce the somewhat stereotyped smile of their forerunners." Usually it is said that the Renaissance brought the supreme qualities of Greek plastic art back to life, but here is a thoroughly competent critic who finds them exhibited long before the Fifteenth Century, as a manifestation of what the self-sufficient generations of the Renaissance would have called Gothic, meaning thereby, barbarous art.

What has been said of sculpture, however, can be repeated with even more force perhaps with regard to every detail of construction and decoration. Builders and architects did make mistakes at times, but, even their mistakes always reveal an artist's soul struggling for expression through inadequate media. Many things had to be done experimentally, most things were being done for the first time. Everything had an originality of its own that made its execution something more than merely a secure accomplishment after previous careful tests. In spite of this state of affairs, which might be expected sadly to interfere with artistic execution, the Cathedrals, in the main, are full of admirable details not only worthy of imitation, but that our designers are actually imitating or at least finding eminently suggestive at the present time.

To begin with a well known example of decorative effect which is found in the earliest of the English Cathedrals, that of Lincoln. The nave and choir of this was finished just at the beginning of the Thirteenth Century. The choir is so beautiful in its conception, so wonderful in its construction, so charming in its finish, so satisfactory in all its detail, though there is very little of what would be called striving after effect in it, that it is still called the Angel Choir.

The name was originally given it because it was considered to be so beautiful even during the Thirteenth Century, that visitors could scarcely believe that it was constructed by human hands and so the legend became current that it was the work of angels. If the critics of the Thirteenth Century, who had the opportunity to see work of nearly the same kind being constructed in many parts of England, judged thus highly of it, it is not surprising that modern visitors should be unstinted in their praise. It is interesting to note as representative of the feeling of a cultured modern scientific mind that Dr. Osler said not long ago, in one of his medical addresses, that probably nothing more beautiful had ever come from the hands of man than this Angel Choir at Lincoln. As to who were the designers, who conceived it, or the workmen who executed it, we have no records. It is not unlikely that the famous Hugh of Lincoln, the great Bishop to whom the Cathedral owes its foundation and much of its splendor, was responsible to no little extent for this beautiful feature of his Cathedral church. The workmen who made it were artist-artisans in the best sense of the word and it is not surprising that other beautitul archtectural features should have flourished in a country where such workmen could be found.

Almost as impressive as the Angel Choir was the stained glass work at Lincoln. The rose windows are among the most beautiful ever made and one of them is indeed considered a gem of its kind. The beautiful colors and wonderful effectiveness of the stained glass of these old time Cathedrals cannot be appreciated unless the windows themselves are actually seen. At Lincoln there is a very impressive contrast that one can scarcely help calling to attention and that has been very frequently the subject of comment by visitors. During the Parliamentary time, unfortunately, the stained glass at Lincoln fell under the ban of the Puritans. The lower windows were almost completely destroyed by the soldiers of Cromwell's army. Only the rose windows owing to their height were preserved from the destroyer. There was an old sexton at the Cathedral, however, for whom the stained glass had become as the apple of his eye. As boy and man he had lived in its beautiful colors as they broke the light of the rising and the setting sun and they were too precious to be neglected even when lying upon the pavement of the Cathedral in fragments. He gathered the shattered pieces into bags and hid them away in a dark corner of the crypt, saving them at least from the desecration of being trampled to dust.

Long afterwards, indeed almost in our own time, they were found here and were seen to be so beautiful that regardless of the fact that they could not be fitted together in anything like their former places, they were pieced into windows and made to serve their original purpose once more? It so happened that new stained glass windows for the Cathedral of Lincoln were ordered during the Nineteenth Century. These were made at an unfortunate time in stained glass making and are as nearly absolutely unattractive, to say nothing worse, as it is possible to make stained glass. The contrast with the antique windows, fragmentary as they are, made up of the broken pieces of Thirteenth Century glass is most striking. The old time colors are so rich that when the sun shines directly on them they look like jewels. No one pays the slightest attention, unless perhaps the doubtful compliment of a smile be given, to the modern windows which were, however, very costly and the best that could be obtained at that time.

More of the stained glass of the Thirteenth Century is preserved at York where, because of the friendship of General Ireton, the town and the Cathedral were spared the worst ravages of the Parliamentarians. As a consequence York still possesses some of the best of its old time windows. It is probable that there is nothing more beautiful or wonderful in its effectiveness than the glass in the Five Sisters window at York. This is only an ordinary lancet window of five compartments -- hence the name -- in the west front of the Cathedral. There are no figures on the window, it is only a mass of beautiful greyish green tints which marvelously subdues the western setting sun at the vesper hour and produces the most beautiful effects in the interior of the Cathedral. Here if anywhere one can realize the meaning of the expression dim religious light. In recent years, however, it has become the custom for so many people to rave over the Five Sisters that we are spared the necessity of more than mentioning it. Its tints far from being injured by time have probably been enriched. There can be no doubt at all, however, of the artistic tastes and esthetic genius of the man who designed it. The other windows of the Cathedral were not unworthy of this truimph of art. How truly the Cathedral was a Technical School can be appreciated from the fact that it was able to inspire such workmen to produce these wondrous effects.

Experts in stained glass work have often called attention to the fact that the windows constructed in the Thirteenth Century were not only of greater artistic value but were also more solidly put together. Many of the windows made in the century still maintain their places, in spite of the passage of time, though later windows are sometimes dropping to pieces. It might be thought that this was due to the fact that later stained glass workers were more delicate in the construction of their windows in order not to injure the effect of the stained glass. To some extent this is true, but the stained glass workers of the Thirteenth Century preserve the effectiveness of their artistic pictures in glass, though making the frame work very substantial. This is only another example of their ability to combine the useful with the beautiful so characteristic of the century, stamping practically every phase of its accomplishment and making their work more admirable because its usefulness does not suffer on account of any strained efforts after supposed beauties.

Though it is somewhat out of place here we cannot refrain from pointing out the educational value of this stained glass work.

Some of the stories on these windows gave details of many passages from the Bible, that must have impressed them upon the people much more than any sermon or reading of the text could possibly have accomplished. They were literally sermons in glass that he who walked by had to read whether he would or not. When we remember that the common people in the Middle Ages had no papers to distract them, and no books to turn to for information, such illustrations as were provided by the stained glass windows, by the painting and the statuary decorations of the Cathedrals, must have been studied with fondest devotion even apart from religious sentiment and out of mere inquisitiveness. The famous "prodigal" window at Chartres is a good example of this. Every detail of the story is here pictorially displayed in colors, from the time when the young man demands his patrimony through all the various temptations he met with in being helped to spend it, there being a naive richness of detail in the matter of the temptations that is quite medieval, from the boon companions who first led him astray to the depths of degradation which he finally reached before he returned to his father, -- even the picture of the fatted calf is not lacking.

On others of these windows there are the stories of the Patron Saints of certain crafts. The life of St. Crispin the shoemaker is given in rather full detail. The same is true of St. Romain the hunter who was the patron of the furriers. The most ordinary experiences of life are pictured and the methods by which these were turned to account in making the -- craftsman a saint, must have been in many ways an ideally uplifting example for fellow craftsmen whenever they viewed -- the window. This sort of teaching could not be without its effect upon the poor. It taught them that there was something else in life besides money getting and that happiness and contentment might be theirs in a chosen occupation and the reward of Heaven at the end of it all, for at the top of these windows the hand of the Almighty is introduced reaching down from Heaven to reward his faithful servants. It is just by such presentation of ideals even to the poor, that the Thirteenth Century differs from the modern time in which even the teaching in the schools seems only to emphasize the fact that men must get money, honestly if they can, but must get money, if they would have what is called success in life.

Another very interesting feature of these windows is the fact that they were usually the gifts of the various Guilds and so represented much more of interest for the members. It is true that in France, particularly, the monarchs frequently presented stained glass windows and in St. Louis time this was so common that scarcely a French Cathedral was without one or more testimonials of this kind to his generosity; but most of the windows were given by various societies among the people themselves. How much the construction of such a window when it was well done, would make for the education in taste of those who contributed to the expense of its erection, can scarcely be over-estimated. There was besides a friendly rivalry in this matter in the Thirteenth Century, which served to bring out the talents of local artists and by the inevitably suggested comparisons eventually served to educate the taste of the people.

It must not be thought, however, that it was only in stained glass and painting and sculpture -- the major arts -- that these workmen attained their triumphs. Practically every detail of Cathedral construction is a monument to the artistic genius of the century, to the wonderful inspiration afforded the workmen and to the education provided by the Guilds which really maintained, as we shall see, a kind of Technical School with the approbation and the fostering care of the ecclesiastics connected with the Cathedrals. An excellent example of a very different class of work may be noted in the hinges of the Cloister door of the Cathedral at York. Personally I have seen three art designers sketching these at the same time only one of whom was an Englishman, another coming from the continent and the third from America. The hinge still swings the heavy oak door of the Thirteenth Century. The arborization of the metal as it spreads out from the main shaft of the hinge is beautifully decorative in effect. A little study of the hinge seems to show that these branching portions were so arranged as to make the mechanical moment of the swinging door less of a dead weight than it would have been if the hinge were a solid bar of iron. Besides the spreading of the branches over a wide surface serves to hold the woodwork of the door thoroughly in place. While the hinge was beautiful, then it was eminently useful from a good many standpoints, and trivial though it might be considered to be, it was in reality a type of all the work accomplished in connection with these Thirteenth Century Cathedrals. According to the old Latin proverb "omne tulit punctum qui miscuit utile dulci," he scores every point who mingles the useful with the beautiful, and certainly the Thirteenth Century workman succeeded in accomplishing the desideratum to an eminent degree. This mingling of the useful and the beautiful is of itself a supreme difference between the Thirteenth Century generations and our own. Mr. Yeats, the well known Irish poet, in bidding farewell to America some years ago said to a party of friends, that no country could consider itself to be making real progress in culture until the very utensils in the kitchen were beautiful as well as useful. Anything that is merely useful is hideous, and anyone who can handle such things with impunity has not true culture. In the Thirteenth Century they never by any chance made anything that was merely useful, especially not if it was to be associated with their beloved Cathedral.

An excellent example of this can be found in their Chalices and other ceremonial utensils which were meant for Divine Service. As we have said elsewhere The Craftsman, the journal of the Arts and Crafts Movement in this country not long since compared a Chalice of the Thirteenth Century with the prize cups which are offered for yacht races and other competitions in this country. We may say at once that the form which the Chalice received during the Thirteenth Century is that which constitutes to a great extent the model for this sacred vessel ever since and the comparison with the modern design is therefore all the more interesting. In spite of the fact that money is no object as a rule in the construction of many of the modern prize cups, they compare unfavorably according to the writer in The Craftsman with the old time chalices. There is a tendency to over ornamentation which spoils the effectiveness of the lines of the metal work in many cases and there is also only too often, an attempt to introduce forms of plastic art which do not lend themselves well to this class of work. It is in design particularly that the older workman excels his modern colleague though usually there are suggestions from several sources for present day work. In a word the Thirteenth Century Chalice was much more admirable than the modern piece of metal work, because the lines were simpler, the combination of beauty with utility more eadily recognizable and the obtrusiveness of the ornamentation much less marked.

This same thing is true for other even coarser forms of metal work in connection with the Cathedrals, and anyone who has seen some of the beautiful iron screens built for Cathedral choirs in the olden times will realize that even the worker in iron must have been an artist as well as a blacksmith. The effect produced, especially in the dim light of the Cathedral, is often that of delicate lace work. To appreciate the strength of the screen one must actually test it with the hands. This of itself represents a very charming adaptation of what might be expected to be rough work meant for protective purposes into a suitable ornament. Some of the gates of the old churchyards are very beautiful in their designs and have often been imitated in quite recent years, for the gates of country places, for our modern millionaires. The Reverend Augustus Jessop who has written much with regard to the times before the Reformation, says that he has found in his investigations, that not infrequently such gates were made by the village blacksmiths. Most of the old parish records are lost because of the suppression of the parishes as well as the monasteries in Henry the Eighth's time. Some of the original documents are, however, preserved and among them are receipts from the village blacksmith, for what we now admire as specimens of artistic ironwork and corresponding receipts from the village carpenter, for woodwork that we now consider of equally high order. There were carved bench ends and choir stalls which seem to have been produced in this way. Just how these generations of the Thirteenth Century, in little towns of less than ten thousand inhabitants, succeeded in raising up artisans in numbers, capable of doing such fine work, and yet content to make their living at such ordinary occupations, is indeed hard to understand. It must not be forgotten, moreover, that though there was not much furniture during the Thirteenth Century what little there was, was as a rule very carefully and artistically made. Thirteenth Century benches and tables are famous. Cathedrals and castles worked together in inspiring and giving occupation to these wonderful workmen.

It was not only the workmen engaged in the construction of the edifices proper who made the beautiful things and created marvelously artistic treasures during this century. All the adornments of the Cathedrals and especially everything associated in any intimate way with the religious service was sure to be executed with the most delicate taste. The vestments of the time are some of the most beautiful that have ever been made. The historians of needlework tell us that this period represents the most flourishing era of artistic accomplishment with the needle of all modern history. One example of this has secured a large share of notoriety in quite recent years. An American millionaire bought the famous piece of needlework known as the Cope of Ascoli. This is an example of the large garment worn over the shoulders in religious processions and at benediction. The price paid for the garment is said to have been $60,000. This was not considered extortionate or enforced, as the Cope was declared by experts to be one of the finest pieces of needlework in the world. The jewels which originally adorned it had been removed so that the money was paid for the needlework itself. After a time it became clear that the Cope had been stolen before being sold, and accordingly it was returned to the Italian government who presented the American millionaire with a medal for his honesty.

We have spoken of the Cathedrals as great stone books, in which he who ran, might read, even though he were not able to read in the technical sense of the term. This has been an old-time expression with regard to the Cathedrals, but not even its inventor perhaps, and certainly not most of those who have repeated it have realized how literally true was the saying. I have elsewhere quoted from Reinach's Story of Art Throughout the Ages as an authority on the subject. His re-statement of the intellectual significance for the people of the Cathedrals of their towns, in which it must be remembered that they had a personal interest because in a sense they were really theirs, and they felt their ownership quite as much as a modern member of a parish feels with regard to his church, emphasizes and illuminates this subject to a wonderful degree. The realization that the information of the time was deliberately woven into these great stone structures, mainly of course for decorative purposes, but partly also with the idea of educating the people, is a startling confirmation of the idea that education was the most important and significant work of this great century.

"The Gothic Cathedral is a perfect encyclopedia of human knowledge. It contains scenes from the Scriptures and the legends of saints; motives from the animal and vegetable kingdom; representations of the seasons of agricultural labor, of the arts and sciences and crafts, and finally moral allegories, as, for instance, ingenious personifications of the virtues and the vices. In the Thirteenth Century a learned Dominican, Vincent of Beauvais, was employed by St. Louis to write a great work which was to be an epitome of all the knowledge of his times. This compilation, called The Mirror of the World, is divided into four parts: The Mirror of Nature, The Mirror of Science, the Moral Mirror, and the Historical Mirror. A contemporary archaeologist, M. E. Male, has shown that the works of art of our great cathedrals are a translation into stone of the Mirror of Vincent of Beauvais, setting aside the episodes from Greek and Roman History, which would have been out of place. It was not that the imagers had read Vincent's work; but that, like him, they sought to epitomise all the knowledge of their contemporaries. The first aim of their art is not to please, but to teach; they offer an encyclopedia for the use of those who cannot read, translated by sculptor or glass-painter into a clear and precise language, under the lofty direction of the Church which left nothing to chance. It was present always and everywhere, advising and superintending the artist, leaving him to his own devices only when he modelled the fantastic animals of the gargoyles, or borrowed decorative motives from the vegetable kingdom."{3}

As to how much the cathedrals held of meaning for those who built them and worshiped in them, only a careful study of the symbolism of the time will enable the present-day admirer to understand. Modern generations have lost most of their appreciation of the significance of symbolism. The occupation of mind with the trivial things that are usually read in our day, leaves little or no room for the study of the profounder thought an artist may care to put into his work, and so the modern artist tells his story as far as possible without any of this deeper significance, since it would only be lost. In the Thirteenth Century, however, everything artistic had a secondary meaning. Literature was full of allegories, even the Arthur Legends were considered to be the expression of the battle of a soul with worldly influences as well as a poetic presentation of the story of the old time British King. The Gothic Cathedrals were a mass of symbolism. This will perhaps be best understood from the following explanation of Cathedral symbolism, which we take from the translation of Durandus's work on the meaning of the Divine Offices, a further account of which will be found in the chapter on The Prose of the Century.

"Far away and long ere we can catch the first view of the city itself, the three spires of its Cathedral, rising high above its din and turmoil, preach to us of the Most High and Undivided Trinity. As we approach, the Transepts, striking out crosswise, tell of the Atonement. The Communion of Saints is set forth by the chapels clustering around Choir and Nave: the mystical weathercock bids us to watch and pray and endure hardness; the hideous forms that are seen hurrying from the eaves speak the misery of those who, are cast out of the church; spire, pinnacle, and finial, the upward curl of the sculptured foliage, the upward spring of the flying buttress, the sharp rise of the window arch, the high thrown pitch of the roof, all these, overpowering the horizontal tendency of string course and parapet, teach us, that vanquishing earthly desires, we also should ascend in heart and mind. Lessons of holy wisdom are written in the delicate tracery of the windows; the unity of many members is shadowed forth by the multiplex arcade; the duty of letting our light shine before men, by the pierced and flowered parapet that crowns the whole.

We enter. The triple breadth of Nave and Aisles, the triple height of Pier arch, Triforium, and Clerestory, the triple length of Choir, Transepts, and Nave, again set forth the HOLY TRINITY. And what besides is there that does not tell of our Blessed SAVIOUR? that does not point out "HIM First" in the two-fold western door; "HIM Last" in the distant altar; "HIM Midst," in the great Rood; "HIM Without End," in the monogram carved on boss and corbel, in the Holy Lamb, in the Lion of the tribe of Judah, in the Mystic Fish? Close by us is the font; for by regeneration we enter the Church; it is deep and capacious; for we are buried in Baptism with CHRIST; it is of stone, for HE is the Rock; and its spiry cover teaches us, if we be indeed risen from its waters with HIM, to seek those things which are above. Before us in long-drawn vista are the massy piers, which are the Apostles and Prophets -- they are each of many members, for many are the Graces in every Saint, there is beautifully delicate foliage round the head of all; for all were plentiful in good works. Beneath our feet are the badges of worldly pomp and glory, the graves of Kings and Nobles and Knights; all in the Presence of God as dross and worthlessness. Over us swells the vast valley of the high pitched roof; from the crossing and interlacing of its curious rafters hang fadeless flowers and fruits which are not of earth; from its hammer-beams project wreaths and stars such as adorn heavenly beings; in its center stands the LAMB as it has been slain; from around HIM the celestial Host, Cherubim and Seraphim, Thrones, Principalities, and Powers, look down peacefully on the worshiners below. Harpers there are among them harping with their harps; for one is the song of the Church in earth and in Heaven. Through the walls wind the narrow cloister galleries; emblems of the path by which holy hermits and anchorets whose conflicts were known only to their GOD, have reached their Home. And we are compassed about with a mighty cloud of witnesses; the rich deep glass of the windows teems with saintly forms, each in its own fair niche, all invested with the same holy repose; there is the glorious company of the Apostles; the goodly fellowship of the Prophets; the noble army of Martyrs; the shining hand of Confessors; the jubilant chorus of the Virgins; there are Kings, who have long since changed an earthly for an heavenly crown; and Bishops who have given in a glad account to the Shepherd and Bishop of souls. But on none of these things do we rest; piers, arch behind arch, windows, light behind light, arcades, shaft behind shaft, the roof, bay behind bay, the Saints around us, the Heavenly Hierarchy above with dignity of preeminence still increasing eastward, each and all, lead on eye and soul and thought to the Image of the Crucified Saviour as displayed on the great East window. Gazing steadfastly on that we pass up the Nave, that is through the Church Militant, till we reach the Rood Screen, the barrier between it and the Church Triumphant, and therein shadowing forth the death of the Faithful. High above it hangs on His Triumphant Cross the image of Him who by His death hath overcome death; on it are portrayed Saints and Martyrs, His warriors who, fighting under their LORD have entered into rest and inherit a tearless eternity. They are to be our examples, and the seven lamps above them typify those graces of the SPIRIT, by Whom alone we can tread in their steps. The screen itself glows with gold and crimson; with gold, for they have on their heads goden crowns; with crimson, for they passed the Red Sea of Martyrdom, to obtain them. And through the delicate network, and the unfolding Holy Doors, we catch faint glimpses of the Chancel beyond. There are the massy stalls; for in Heaven is everlasting rest; there are the Sedilia, emblems of the seats of the Elders round the Throne; there is the Piscina; for they have washed their robes and made them white; and there heart and soul and life of all, the Altar with its unquenched lights, and golden carvings, and mystic steps, and sparkling jewels; even CHRIST Himself, by Whose only Merits we find admission to our Heavenly Inheritance. Verily, as we think on the oneness of its design, we may say: Jerusalem edificatur ut civitas cujus participatio ejus in idipsum.

It is because of all this wealth of meaning embodied in them, that the Cathedrals of this old time continue to be so interesting and so unfailingly attractive even to our distant and so differently constituted generation.{4}

We cannot close this chapter on the Book of the Arts leaving the impression that only the Church Architecture of the time deserves to be considered in the category of great art influences. There were many municipal buildings, some stately castles, and a large number of impressively magnificent Abbeys and Monasteries, besides educational and charitable institutions built at this same time. The town halls of some of the great Hansa towns, that is, the German free cities that were members of the Hanseatic League, present some very striking examples of the civil architecture of the period. It has the same characteristics that we have discussed in treating of the Cathedrals. While wonderfully impressive it was eminently suitable for the purpose for which it was intended and the decorations always forming integral parts of the structure, sounded the note of the combination of beauty with utility which is so characteristic of every phase of the art accomplishment of the century.

Some of the castles would deserve special description by themselves but unfortunately space forbids more than a passing mention. Certain castellated fortresses still standing in England and Ireland come from the time of King John, and are excellent examples of the stability and forceful character of this form of architecture in the Thirteenth Century. It is interesting to find that when we come to build in the Twentieth Century in America, the armories which are to be used for the training of our militia and the storage of arms and ammunition, many of the ideas used in their construction are borrowed from this olden time. There is a famous castle in Limerick, Ireland, built in John's time which constitutes an excellent example of this and which has doubtlessly often been studied and more or less imitated.

One portion of Kenilworth Castle in England dates from the Thirteenth Century and has been often the subject of careful study by modern architects. The same thing might be said of many others.

With regard to the English Abbeys too much cannot be said in praise of their architecture and it has been the model for large educational and municipal buildings ever since. St. Mary's Abbey at York, though only a few scattered fragments of its beauties are to be seen and very little of its walls still stand, is almost as interesting as Yorkminster, the great Cathedral itself. There were many such abbeys as this built in England during the Thirteenth Century -- more than a dozen of them at least and probably a full score. All of them are as distinguished in the history of architecture as the English Cathedrals. It will be remembered that what is now called Westminster Abbey was not a cathedral church, but only a monastery church attached to the Abbey of Westminster and this, the only well preserved example of its class furnishes an excellent idea of what these religious institutions signify in the Thirteenth Century. They meant as much for the art impulse as the Cathedrals themselves.

One feature of these monastic establishments deserves special mention. The cloisters were usually constructed so beautifully as to make them veritable gems of the art of the period. These cloisters were the porticos usually surrounding a garden of the monastery within which the Monks could walk, shaded from the sun, and protected from the rain and the snow. They might very easily have been hideously useful porches, especially as they were quite concealed from the outer world as a rule, and those not belonging to the order were not admitted to them except on very special occasions. The name cloister signifies an enclosed place and lay persons were not ordinarily admitted to them. Those who know anything about them will recall what beautiful constructive work was put into them. Certain examples as that of St. John Lateran in Rome and the Cloister of St. Paul's without the walls some five miles from Rome, constructed during the Thirteenth Century and under the influence of the same great art movement as gave the Cathedrals, are the most beautiful specimens that now remain. The only thing that they can be compared with is the famous Angel Choir at Lincoln which indeed they recall in many ways.

The pictures of these two Cloisters which we present will give some idea of their beauty. To be thoroughly appreciated, however, they must be seen, for there is a delicacy of finish about every detail that makes them an unending source of admiration and brings people back again and again to see them, yet always to find something new and apparently unnoticed before. It might be thought that the studied variety in the columns so that no two are of exactly the same form, would produce a bizarre effect. The lack of symmetry that might result from this same feature could be expected to spoil their essential beauty. Neither of these effects has been produced, however. The Cloisters were, moreover, not purple patches on monasteries, but ever worthy portions of very beautiful buildings.

All of these buildings were furnished as regards their metal work, their wood work, and the portions that lent themselves to decoration, in the same spirit as the Cathedrals themselves. The magnificent tables and benches of the Thirteenth Century are still considered to be the best models of simplicity of line with beauty of form and eminent durability in the history of furniture making. The fashion for Colonial furniture in our own time has brought us nearer to such Thirteenth Century furniture making than has been true at any other time in history. Here once more there was one of these delightful combinations of beauty and utility which is so characteristic of the century. Even the kitchen utensils were beautiful as well as useful and the Irish poet might have been satisfied to his heart's content.

Certain other architectural forms were wonderfully developed during the Thirteenth Century and the opening years of the Fourteenth Century while men trained during the former period were still at work. Giotto's tower, for instance, must be considered a Thirteenth Century product since its architect was well past thirty-five years of age before the Thirteenth Century closed and all his artistic character had been formed under its precious inspiration. It is a curious reflection on modern architecture; that some of the modern high business buildings are saved from being hideous just in as much as they approach the character of some of these tower-like structures of the Thirteenth Century. The first of New York's skyscrapers which is said to have escaped the stigma of being utterly ugly, as most of them are, because of their appeal to mere utility, was the New York Times Building which is just Giotto's tower on a large scale set down on Broadway at the beginning of the Twentieth Century. Seen from a mile away the effect is exactly that of the great Florentine architect's beautiful structure and this was of course the deliberate intention of the modern architect. Anyone who would think, however, that our modern business building with its plain walls recalls in any adequate sense its great pattern, should read what Mr. Ruskin has said with regard to the wealth of meaning that is to be found in Giotto's tower. Into such structures just as into the Cathedrals, the architects and builders of the time succeeded in putting a whole burden of suggestion, which to the generations of the time in which they were built, accustomed to the symbolism of every art feature in life around them, had a precious wealth of significance that we can only appreciate after deep study and long contemplation. We have felt that only the quotation from Mr. Ruskin himself can fully illustrate what we wish to convey in this matter.

"Of these representations of human art under heavenly guidance, the series of basreliefs which stud the base of this tower of Giotto's must be held certainly the chief in Europe. At first you may be surprised at the smallness of their scale in proportion to their masonry; but this smallness of scale enabled the master workmen of the tower to execute them with their own hands; and for the rest, in the very finest architecture, the decoration of most precious kind is usually thought of as a jewel, and set with space round it -- as the jewels of a crown, or the clasp of a girdle."

{1} Ferguson -- History of Architecture. N. V., Dodd, Mead & Co.

{2} Scribners, New York, 1905.

{3} Reinach.The Story of Art Throughout the Ages. Scribner's, 1904.

{4} Those who care to realize to some degree all the wonderful symbolic meaning of the ornamentation of some of these cathedrals, should read M. Huysman's book La Cathedrale, which has, we believe, been translated into English. Needless to say it has been often in our hands in compiling this chapter, and the death of its author as this chapter is going through the press poignantly recalls all the beauty of his work.

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