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The Gargoyles Are Our Guardians

Avisikta Ghosh & Tushita Basak

The Gothic architectural style was adapted in the early 12th century. The blunt towers, barrel vaults and thick walls of the earlier Romanesque style gave way to the more elegant Gothic style. As the power of the Church increased, so did the desire to reach God and to recreate a heaven on Earth. We started building loftier spires and pinnacles, and in some cases domes. Over time a stock of buildings and building methods constituted a loose, yet easily recognizable style.

The progression of trials with novel forms of construction and decoration was inspired as much by the need to edify the pious congregations of the Church, as by any technical progress or by changes of taste. The building in which the style achieved its first magisterial expression was the abbey church of Saint-Denis outside Paris. The plan was in the shape of a Roman Cross, and the new choir was extremely light and open in structure, using fine materials, with two rows of prominent virtually-contiguous stained-glass windows in ambulatory chapels and clerestory, forming a luminous backdrop to the sumptuous altar that was its centrepiece. Masonry was reduced to a skeletal minimum. It provided the frame for the windows and defined the spatial components without breaking their essential unity.

Most of the religious Gothic buildings had similar characteristics. Plans were usually shaped like the Cross, with a nave and aisle, a crossing, an ambulatory, and an apse. In order to build taller and larger structures, several architectural elements were used. Features which had not been used in cathedral architecture till date were borrowed from other styles. The spires can be traced to the Middle East. The walls, which till now had been very thick and much shorter gave way to lighter, taller ones. To support these structures, other architectural elements began to be used. The flying buttress can be traced back as early as the Basilica of San Vitale in Ravenna. These were used to provide lateral support to the loadbearing walls. Flying buttresses also reduced the heavy weight of the roof on the walls, allowing for leaner walls. With time, ribbed vaulting was developed which helped transfer roof-loads better, while freeing up inner walls for tracery and glass. Ribs were added to the basic Romanesque barrel vault to extend the transfer of loads to the ground. As Gothic architecture reached its pinnacle, complex vaulting systems, for example the quadripartite and sexpartite vaulting techniques were developed. This development reduced the need for inner load-bearing walls, thereby opening up the inner space and providing visual and aesthetic unity. These elements allowed masons to add larger and larger windows. Two specific window designs were flourished during the Gothic era, the narrowly tapered lancet windows which reinforced height, and the oculus or rose window. The windows usually held meticulously detailed stained glass in them. These were held in place by a delicate framework of stone called tracery. Stone tracery has its origins in the Byzantine Empire. Doorways and windows used the pointed arch. This was also a structural system and worked to accentuate the height. The clerestory windows allowed more natural light to enter from the top of the building working to enhance the spiritual effect.

Secular Gothic architecture included castles, country and town houses. Gothic Architecture moved from France where it originated to the rest of Europe, especially England, Italy and Germany, and flourished till the 16th century.

The title was a belief I held on watching The Hunchback of Notre Dame for the first time at the age of four.

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