“Once there was a world which lived through and with its cathedral, where houses huddled below the cathedral, where streets converged at the cathedral, where people turned from their fields or villages to gaze at the cathedral. The peasant might inhabit a lowly hut and the knight, a castle, but both shared in the life of the cathedral to the same extent and with the same feelings. Everyone without exception shared the common life of the cathedral. No man was imprisoned in his own poverty without being aware that outside, whether near or far, he too possessed riches.”
With these observations from his Open Diary 1929-1959, the Italian writer Elio Vittorini, presents to us a vivid image of a medieval world steeped in the tradition of the Gothic cathedral. Many artists and writers down the centuries, including Victor Hugo, Francois Rene Chateaubriand, Friedrich Schlegel, and John Ruskin were also deeply moved by the sight of a Gothic cathedral, by the feeling of intense spirituality that suffuses its vast, soaring space.
Gothic art originated around 1140 in France, and was originally confined to abbeys and cathedrals. For the first time, the architecture united elements of Burgundian design (the pointed arch) and Norman design (ribbed vaults) to create a new church architecture – an “architecture of light” that was to raise the observer from the material to the spiritual. As the 20th century scholar of Gothic, Hans Jantzen puts it, in this cathedral, “something solid is being removed from its natural surrounding …divested of weight and made to soar upwards.” The theme is always the transcendent.