Medieval Construction

Ecclesiastical and Royal Buildings

Fine stone masonry: used only for public works, royal buildings and ecclesiastical buildings of royal importance: always using either arched cut stone spans or vaulted timber spans at roof level. Many such superb constructions still exist and are still in use today. Built to last.

The chief obstacles to construction of these buildings were the costs of material supplies and journeyman tradesmen, and the expertise of engineering required. Many royal landowners bankrupted themselves trying to pay for the cost of colossal stone buildings, and the pride of cities depended upon their ability to finish a cathedral once begun.

Bruges Cathedral

The Cathedral dominated the village skyline, and could be seen for miles in all directions.

The cost of the building was in the details. Every part of it was designed for long lasting and maintenance free usage. The gutters required lead... a very expensive metal. The domes required heavy copper sheathing. Shed roofs were finished in high grade slate, which was heavy, and required very heavy roof framing to support it. A heavy roof demanded a massive structural framework down to foundations.

Hereford Cathedral

A cathedral spire two hundred feet high, or a large span across an eighty foot high cathedral altar vault, would mean additional supporting structural loads which mounted greater and greater stresses as the loads work down to reach ground. Such eventual dead loads at ground level meant absolutely huge foundation works under the point loads and shear walls. This took a heck of a lot of work, which meant money... a lot of money.

Worcester Cathedral

The individual stone pieces which make up the vault structure and the ceiling panels are clearly visible here. The arches bear the ceiling load and pass it into the vertical stone columns.

Once up, these buildings had to be finished inside and out... stained glass with huge structural metal frameworks... finely worked hardwood detailing reaching up the vast walls and across ceilings and mezzanines... furnishings sound enough to take the usage of the public throngs over hundreds of years had to be of very heavy construction, while the usage of the buildings required this heavy furniture to be finely detailed and decorated.

Bruges Cathedral

Interior finishes by master carpenters and sculptors were required to be executed as well as possible, without regard to cost.

And now for something completely interesting...

Click here to view Simon Schama discussing
The English Church on the Eve of The Reformation (from the BBC series "A History of Britain")
Real people, real stories and clips from your favourite BBC History programmes.

Kenilworth Castle: sacked during the Civil War

These public works were intended to instill pride of ownership, not only in the ecclesiatic and royal authorities who held them in trust, but also, in the hearts and minds of the citizens who built and used them. To this effect, these buildings were unbelievably successful, in that they actually instill pride of ownership in the public mind six and seven hundred years after they were built.

Bruges Cathedral

Slate and also clay tiles were used for roofing the public buildings, in order to provide a surface which would remain waterproof and maintenance free for at least a generation.

Who, today, expects that the tourist of the year 2500 A.D. will travel around the world to stand in awe at the foot of any glass curtainwall skyscraper we have built? Nobody even expects them to be standing in five hundred years. We, in our own time, are building nothing at all which compares with the works of the master builders of the middle ages.

Valkenburg City Gate in the mountain region of south Holland dates from the twelfth century

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