Gothic Style, The
An architectural style is a set, or system, of principles which include within themselves a structural form, and a mode of ornamentation; the last named never being added on, as by an afterthought but belonging to the principles. To discover a new set or system of architectural principles is so difficult, and is achieved so seldom, that it is doubtful if more than a score or so of styles of architecture have been discovered in the history of the whole world. Oftentimes what is called a style is not a style, but a modification of one, or is the use of some detail of one (Greek pillars, for example), or, like the gables on New England houses, is nothing more than a local fancy--a carpenter's trick and not an architectural principle.
Before the period of about 1140 A.D. in northern France churches and other public buildings (every people's architecture has been a style or mode or customary design of public, or communal, or monumental buildings) were constructed in Romanesque. The origin of this type was the old Roman town hall, or basilica, and it had been adapted for use in churches by employing flattened round arches, often set in colonnades. These Romanesque churches w ere made of white stone, and there were so many of them in France that a chronicler once described them as "the white cloak of churches," a phrase repeated countless times.
Suddenly--in fact, very suddenly--and beginning at a point in or near Paris, this Romanesque type was replaced by the Gothic style, which until Petrarch's time was called the French style. This Gothic became an enthusiasm, almost an obsession, and between (roughly) 1140 A.D. and 1250 A.D. no fewer than eighty cathedrals and some 500 large churches were built in it in France alone--one bishop even tore down a great basilica church (St. Peter's at Rome was then a basilica) only fifty years old, because his people demanded the wonderful new Gothic.
This was not a gradual piecemeal development of one detail after another out of Romanesque, but the discovery of a new formula, which itself was a single unity of principles, and bad to be understood as a whole or not at all. A comparable discovery, one making it easier to grasp the point of the Gothic discovery, was made here in America by Wilbur and Orville Wright, of Dayton, Ohio, during the first decade of the Twentieth Century. Their discovery was not aimed at by first modifying one piece of machinery and then another, nor did it come as the end result of a large number of experiments one after the other, but z as a feat of thought, and was discovered at once and as a whole.
This discovery was the aero-dynamic formula; and it seas in essence not a mechanical one but a mathematical one, and neither of the men w as a mechanic. Whoever it was who found out the Gothic style, one man or a group, at one stroke or over ten or twenty years, similarly discovered a formula, the Gothic formula; and just as airplane designers, once they had the aero-dynamic formula to work with could make planes of any possible size, speed, power, and for any possible purpose, so could the possessors of the Gothic formula design buildings large or small; cathedrals or churches or monasteries or halls.
If histories of architecture in four or five modern languages be placed side by side on a series of shelves, and if their contents be compared one with another, it will be found that they are concerned with public and monumental structures, capitols, churches, libraries, museums, hospitals, palaces, etc. and that they describe or discuss these public and monumental structures in the terms of the architectural styles they embody. The building of such structures is one of the fine arts.
That fine art is always what historians mean by architecture. This distinction between a building which only a trained artist can erect and the simple structures which any workman can construct was as clear to men in the Middle Ages as it is now. Medieval men had numberless simple homes, cottages, barns, storehouses, factories, shops, sheds, bridges; in every village were carpenters, stone-masons, wailers, and bricklayers able to build them. But these local workmen were not then, any more than now, architects. To build a church, cathedral, gildhall, castle, town hall it was necessary to call in from outside builders trained and skilled in architecture, or building as a fine art. The evidences everywhere indicate that these latter workmen were called Freemasons; they indicate also that these Freemasons were in gilds or fraternities apart from the small gilds of local workmen, just as at the present time local carpenters and bricklayers are not members of the American Society of Architects.
In another respect, however, the art of architecture of the present time differs fundamentally from Medieval architecture. The present day architect begins with schooling instead of with apprenticeship.
He goes to college to study geometry, mechanics, draftsmanship, design, the history of his art, etc., and remains there until he has mastered a set of abstract formulae and general principles of construction; after he has set up his own office he is free to make his choice among five or six architectural styles when designing a building. In the Middle Ages the beginner was not sent to a school but was indentured in an apprenticeship; he was not educated in abstract principles and formulae but was manually trained to produce given pieces of work, and wherever he might go, he knew he would have those same given pieces of work to do. From the middle of the Twelfth Century until about the time of Henry VII the only style, or type of building, known to either architects or the public, was the Gothic. No two Gothic buildings were ever exactly the same, but their component parts were always made the same way--the pointed arch, the buttress, the column, the rose window, the fan vault, the tower, etc.; therefore the training of an apprentice consisted of drilling him in the knowledge and skill of making or designing those particular component parts of a Gothic building. In the Middle Ages each trade or craft was locally organized as a gild, fraternity, society, etc.; in each instance the technologies, or making or mixing of materials, use of tools, etc., were a trade secret. The local stone-masons, carpenters, wailers, paviors, roofers likewise had their own local organizations, and in them preserved their own trade secrets. The Freemasons had societies, fraternities, lodges of their own, apart from local builders; the methods and principles of architecture, which at that time was necessarily Gothic architecture, were their great trade secret. To call them Gothic builders is therefore only another way of saying that they were architects, though the latter term was not then used.
The Gothic builder was trained in one style only, and would therefore have been at a disadvantage in competition with a modern architect, who had been educated to understand the principles of design in each and every established style. But the scope for a Gothic builder's ingenuity, talent, and skill was not therefore a narrow one; because the Gothic itself, above any other style ever discovered, was unbelievably fertile, flexible, comprehensive, and difficult; so much so that it overflowed, and elements of it were adopted by local builders, and even by designers of gold work, cloth designing, and even in writing. The mastering of it called for such an amount of knowledge that Gothic builders stood in a class apart, not in respect of their art alone but as men of great attainments in things of the mind, of characters of independence, of culture. Such men as Suger, Arnolfo, William of Sens, Henry Yevele were among the most eminent of great men of their own or any other time.
The local masons, carpenters, and other workmen in the building trades were illiterate, parochial, thoroughly trained but trained only for simple types of work; it would be impossible to believe that Speculative Freemasonry with its philosophy and its arts and sciences ever could have arisen among them; and as a matter of fact there is nothing to indicate that anything belonging to culture, science, thought was ever produced by them. It was among the Freemasons, or Gothic builders, that Speculative Freemasonry arose; it was they in particular, and not masons or builders in general, who are denoted by our use of the phrase "Operative Masons."
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