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Gothic: Addressing the Mysteries of Religion

July 3, 2011

During this last component of our survey of Art, we are turning our attention to the Gothic style.  It occupies an intriguing position in both time and space.  Prior to the Gothic we have the remnants of the so-called Dark Ages and immediately following the Gothic we have the first flowering of the Renaissance.  Nevertheless, the Gothic style in architecture sustains itself with its unique structural harmonies found both on the outside as well as on the inside of its religious edifices.  John Keble, in his Lectures on Poetry:  1832-41 (published 1844), described the Gothic as follows:  “A style of architecture which, to me at least, is, in comparison with all others, the most beautiful of all, and by far the most in harmony with the mysteries of religion.”  What are your thoughts on the Gothic style within the context of Keble’s assessment?

Chartres Cathedral, West Facade


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  1. silvia G permalink

    I like it but at the same time it gives me a scary feeling in my stomach. The windows have an amazing arch to it and how the tip of the towers looks so sharp. I love the middle window that looks like a flower. The way it’s built gives you that kind of feeling when you see a scary house but it’s the total opposite of it.

  2. I have to tend to agree with John Keble when he states that “…by far the most in harmony with the mysteries of religion” The Gothic architecture style in my opinion has a very mysterious ambiance and therefore greatly reflects upon the buildings and churches that same feeling. Religion in general is very mysterious and this particular style of architecture does an excellent job at conveying the general structure of the buildings with what the building also represents. I think that although the style appears dark and mysterious it is extremely beautiful in it’s own unique way.

  3. Lindsey Paige permalink

    I have always found Gothic architecture to be uniquely beautiful. It is ornate and a true marvel to behold, yet so entirely different from what one pictures when encountering those words. It is bold, dramatic, and mysterious, vaguely dark and ominous even, and even as such, it is strangely suited to this place of worship. Not for any dark reason, simply because being inside a Gothic church is a uniquely religious experience. It is as though everything but the church becomes quieter, and the light, the sounds, and the building itself all become a single force that demands attention be drawn to the mysterious majesty of something far greater than one’s own self.

  4. Cristine Lim permalink

    Gothic architecture has always been intriguing and mysterious and that is part of the allure. I agree with Lindsey that it is a “single force that demands attention”. The way it is steeply built with long thin columns, forces the eyes to travel from the top and down and finally resting on the center . Whether or not you believe in a certain religion, they are usually full of mysterious beliefs and alluring compromises, which is exemplified through the Gothic structures.

  5. Kellilyn Monar permalink

    I would have to agree with Keble. When I think of the word “Gothic” I think of dark and scary. In a way, the architecture of this period is dark and scary, but at the same time it is fascinating, and beautiful. It is intimidating but, at the same time, intriguing. The structures have a very mysterious ambiance, and mysterious services or events take place inside of them, makes sense. The churches of this time are so unique. Nothing like it had been done before, and I highly doubt anything will be done like it in the future. I don’t even think the modern architecture that we marvel at today can compare to the Gothic churches.

  6. Irene Webber permalink

    I completely agree with Keble’s assessment. I think the Gothic style is fascinating. Looking at Chartres Cathedral from the outside is somewhat ominous. You’re not sure if it’s a place you want to approach. But once you get inside the feeling is completely different. It’s beautiful and majestic. Religion can be the same way. When you’re not familiar with a religion it might be a little scary looking at it for the first time. But once you become involved in the religion and truly believe, it’s a completely different experience.

  7. Alex Trimble permalink

    I really like the Gothic style of architecture; the use of so much stained glass combined with the ornate carvings just seems very dramatic and mysterious. The outside is almost kind of imposing with its thin buttresses that draw the eye upwards and create a lofty, soaring aesthetic, and the gargoyle statues that are there to look threatening and symbolize the opposite of the church. Then the inside is beautiful with the light filtering through the stained glass into the main church and the darker cloisters. So I think it definitely creates a mysterious religious atmosphere, which is kind of the architect’s intention, to create an unusual atmosphere that results in a moving experience.

  8. Danielle Nazareno permalink

    Gothic style art is very dramatic and detail which makes me somewhat agree with Keble’s assessment. I do not think it is the most beautiful, but I do; however, find it one of the best as well as one of my favorite style of art. The immense detail and patterns is so intricate yet tremendously beautiful. These pieces are never simple or dull which fascinates me and brings curiosity to the thoughts of the artist and his intentions for his artwork.

  9. Julie Dickinson permalink

    Gothic style architecture is dramatic and unique in many ways. The interior is decorated beautifully with stained glass and sculptures entire walls are glowing with the natural sunlight of day. The exterior is abundantly powerful with vertical structures and height in its peaks. The architecture is quite fascinating when you begin to take the time to experience all the fine details.

  10. Cally Vaurs permalink

    I agree with Keble. I am fascinated with things that are not what they seem. So to find a building like this that looks almost scary and dull from the outside; your entire perspective can change just by walking inside and giving it a chance. I like the feeling of exploration and Gothic architecture forces you to do just that. A building with the ability to give the viewer completely polar emotions is something that cannot be beat!

  11. Bryan Yim permalink

    I think the Gothic style is the architectural form of persuiting light and verticality at its peak. The flying butresses were a great invention that have made it possible to have less walls and more windows which created dramatic lighting for the interior space. The mix of the high ceiling of a Gothic cathedral and the stained glass windows creates a otherworldly feeling inside the cathedral which was above the human world but below the heavenly realm of the heaven. The architects were able to create a realm that is between the human world and the kindom of God. It is already facinating just looking at the photographs of these Gothic cathedrals, and it would sure be an astounding experience to actually go and see these amazing architectures.

  12. Douglas Falla permalink

    I agree, gothic architecture in my opinion revolutionized the “normal architecture”. I really like the darkness, and mystical feel that it gives out. The detail, time, and work put into these gothic structures amazes me. I have to say that gothic architecture is very pleasing to my eye.

  13. Ed Goodman permalink

    I have always found Gothic architecture very beautiful and unique. There’s just nothing else that’s quite like it. It has this sort of creepy beauty to it that I find fascinating. With the impossible hight of these structures with little supporting them it’s easy to see why people find them otherworldly or divine. Which is one of the reasons why I think that the Gothic style of architecture is very popular and appealing as churches.

  14. As a child the only thing I knew about Gothic architecture was from the movie Hunchback of Notre Dame which portrayed it as scary. But since I have been to Paris and been able to experience the architecture first hand I have changed my mind. Its massive but in a way delicate, the way they climb into the sky. The peaked Gothic arches draw the eye up to heaven. When you walk inside the proportion and height puts you in awe.

  15. Maryann Floren permalink

    Gothic architecture is amazing; it is beautiful and dark, all at the same time. I honestly find the most beautiful pieces of architecture is from this era. I have yet to visit the places where these amazing places are, but I plan to in the near future. I would have loved to get married in a place of such beauty. It is truly astounding how the construction these chapels are so amazing. It is more amazing than a lot of our current architecture today.

  16. Chase Menaker permalink

    Gothic architecture is stunning. Of all the periods we’ve studied thus far, it has enchanted me the most. Their use of stained glass and tall, slender lines almost creates a sense of surrealism. It is perfectly designed to create the sense that the church is neither celestial or terrestrial. It’s somewhat bizarre and I would love to experience it in real life. Additionally, their use of flying buttresses to support such designs is amazingly clever.

  17. Laura Cruz permalink

    I absolutely love Gothic architecture because there is so much detail in the exterior as much as the interior. Even though some might have a plain exterior but when you go inside it;s the total opposite. I kinda see it as a mystery because you don’t know what expect from a building that has very little detail outside but then you go in and see a beautiful interior with stained glasses and frescoes for example. It’s truly beautiful.

  18. Randee Oh permalink

    I am glad we talked more about this era, just the name alone does leave a bad taste in someone who is ignorant, like I was, about its history. I love how the two towers where different and I marval how it must have stood out compared to everything that was symetrical and the same, since that was the fade of the time.

  19. Ngoc Le permalink

    I really love Gothic architecture style. Gothic architecture is an example of how the intricate structural and decorative elements in buildings are tied together. The elaborate detail is not confined to the inside of the building. The statues and sculptures outside are just as wonderful as inside the church. The stained glass art is famous for in many ways breaks the darkness inside the structure by a glow of colors emanating from every wall.

  20. Jason Carrara permalink

    Keble’s assessment about Gothic architecture is a strange one– I never considered how architecture could be in harmony with the philosophies and values of a religion. Gothic architecture is characterized by overtly ornate decoration, carved arches and recesses, and flying buttressing. This style of building could symbolize the complexity of religion and how undefinable and illusive the concept of life beyond death is.

  21. Alex Kereczman permalink

    I think the statement by Keble explain the Gothic architecture perfectly. The unique beauty of the architecture of the time, shows it’s reverence to religion and its own beauty. The extravagant ornateness of the cathedrals depict the passion and love for religion. The light inside of the cathedrals, that streams through the stained glass windows, is a depiction of the glory of Christianity and the new found harmony of coming out of the darkness. The architecture represents the devotion and passion to Christianity.

  22. Diana Cosio permalink

    I agree with Keble’s statement. Gothic architecture is meant to be digested through a progression as you see the building, you approach the exterior, and finally when you enter. When seen from the exterior, one observes the immense scale of the cathedral and feels the mysterious undertone of the towering spires and flying buttresses. And as you approach the cathedral to enter it, the dark and evil gargoyles and other monsters are noticed, along with the elaborate stone carvings. And finally when you enter the structure, it is adorned with the patterns of the stained glass and intricate sculptures, which reminisce the beauty only found in Heaven. It is this voyage that reflects the religious goal of worshipping- seeing the horrors of sinning, then finding salvation within repent, and finally being blissful within Heaven.

  23. Lucy Glover permalink

    I agree with Keble’s assessment of the Gothic style of architecture.
    As he states, it is “by far the most in harmony with the mysteries
    of religion.” It not only pertains to religion, Gothic architecture
    was built sturdy, with a large amount of detail. I also agree that
    Gothic style can give off a haunting vibe to them, but that is what
    makes the style different and extraordinary.

  24. Mike Bautista permalink

    At a certain degree I’d have to agree with Keble. But I believe it all depends on how you look at it. There is that slight sense of dread some may feel when looking at Gothic architecture. For others, Gothic art feels like the pinnacle of Christian influence, which some may find to be quite alarming and disturbing. Again, it all depends on how you look and perceive it. At its essence, I see Gothic architecture to be the exaggeration of everything, and all of it in excess. For those who hesitate to be held by the Christian grip of influence, it may be a scary sight to witness. But for others it can be an enlightening experience. Either way, it is undeniable how much technical skill was put in and how much beauty derived from it.

  25. christina lopez permalink

    The Gothic style brings a new light to art compare to the medieval style. I like the gothic style better but I wouldn’t call it beautiful because there are some arts that are ceative-but not beautiful. It is a new light in art during the Gothic era but the name gothic takes away the beauty of the style. I have always considered “gothic” to be a reference to darkness but not a period of style that leads to the Renaissance . I do agree that the gothic style is very much in harmony with religion. We can see now a clearer idea of Christ and how people think Christ had looked like. We see no fear of hidding the identify of God but it is widely seen in important events in Christ life. All in all, the Gothic style has advanced in representation of figures but it is still lacking beauty or perfection.

  26. Chartres Cathedral almost gives you a feel of mystery. The wonder of how they constructed such a beautiful and intricate structure that holds so many gorgeous and equally intricate and mysterious windows, and how they made those windows that are not seen as well on the outside, causing curiosity in anyone who passes this cathedral by, drawing them in, only to find the celestial and heavenly presence of God just inside the doors, coming in through the mass of stained glass windows. After the end of the dark ages, this form of place of worship is perfect. People were still slightly afraid, and just by entering this place with its deceivingly cold and stone, yet intricate and well thought out structure, their entire mood is changed just by the heavenly presence of light from these remarkable windows.

  27. Victoria Brown permalink

    A fascinating concept of Gothic art is that is entirely distinguishable. Gothic art successfully created a name and face all its own. Today where most architecture comes standard, and art appreciation in narrow ina sense, the style of Gothic is easily identified by many. This claim marks a huge stake on it’s success as a style. I find it absolutley intriguing and beautiful. I’ve read that some get a dark feeling about it, and I believe that its ability to invoke any reaction sets it atop the many different styles of architecture. I love that it has an ambiance all it own. Stunning, majestic, powerful, Notre Dame is one famous building that I have had the pleasure of witnessing first hand. Gothic is a very overwhelming style and creates an experience for all viewer’s. I find this aspect of the art absolutely commendable.

  28. Victoria Brown permalink

    In adddition, I think the sense of overwhelming presence lends these cathedral to create a truly spiritual connection to those who enter it, and even moreso those who worship in it.

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