Sep 22, 2020 in Art
Salisbury Cathedral Art Essay

Gothic architecture as a style of design prospered in the High and Late Middle Ages. It evolved from Romanesque architecture and later was followed by Renaissance architecture. The term “gothic” first appeared during the last part of the Renaissance. Due to its characteristics, such as a pointed arch, flying buttress, and the ribbed vault, the architecture was mostly considered the design of most of the cathedrals and churches of Europe that were maintained to this period. The architecture is also considered the style of many town halls, castles, and even private homes of various individuals. However, in various great churches and cathedrals, the Gothic style was expressed in a more pronounced way with its characteristic expression of emotions and religious ideas of the Middle Ages. Thus, this paper focuses on Salisbury cathedral as one of the representatives of Gothic architecture, its elements, and the ways it reveals the religious ideals of the Middle Ages in its monumental form.

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Salisbury Cathedral

The history of Salisbury Cathedral begins in 1220 before the first foundation stone was put into place (Fiero, 2010, p. 223). Initially, Bishop Osmund had built a smaller cathedral after the Norman conquerors of England built a castle within the protective earth banks around Old Sarum for the security purposes of the monks. However, there were frequent collisions and misunderstandings between the monks and the castle garrison, which led to the final construction of Salisbury Cathedral by Richard Poore that lasted from 1220 to 1254 (Fiero, 2010, p. 223). Its structure is now called the Early English Gothic, which had a strong emphasis on height and light making it unique in the whole of England. Unlike most churches, which were built in the evolving styles over centuries to result in the final finished structure, Salisbury Cathedral was built within one generation to its full completion. Therefore, its final structure presents a unity of vision, which is evocative of a single English era. The building has been repaired a few times and became fully fixed after an architectural survey by Sir Christopher Wren. The structure has been considered strong after the last survey implying that Wren’s work was great. 

The sculpture of Salisbury Cathedral contributes to its overall effect distinguishing it from other buildings and churches all over England. There is a sculpture of Bishop Richard Poore, who enabled the construction and completion of the building. It is located on the west front of the cathedral. In addition, the cathedral makes incredible use of Purbeck marble. The material is crystalline limestone which was quarried in Corfe Castle, Dorset. In this case, the slender columns provide a great sense of space and height within the building while managing to accommodate as many people as possible at the same time (Tatton-Brown & Crook, 2009). Moreover, the Purbeck marble is used primarily in the column shafts on the three characteristics of cathedrals: the vault ribs, the aisles, and the nave. In the cathedral, little of the original C13 has lasted for long and survived the ravages of time, particularly those of the 18th century when cartloads of glass were dumped in the rubbish and eventually came into the possession of glaziers. Stained glass in Salisbury comprises the best collection in the southeast transept while some of the best remains of figurative glass are visible through the nave window. 

Our Process

How the Plan, Elements, and Decoration Reveal Christian Ideology and Symbolism

Unlike most of the other cathedrals, Salisbury has a unity of designs in its structure, which was aimed at revealing the religious ideology of Christianity. The employed designs of the builders that include the pointed arches, the slender vertical piers, and buttresses give the cathedral the shape of a cross representing the Christianity faith. The interior is well-lit as planned by the architects to symbolize the power of light in the faith. It presents the visitors of Salisbury with a beautiful view of the inside and from the windows of the outside as well (Tatton-Brown & Crook, 2009). The interior and exterior decorations of the building are also among the features making Salisbury Cathedral unique compared to the other cathedrals in England with its windows having been decorated with the use of verses from the Bible enabling people to read them from outside and inside of the building. The combination of the plan structure, the sculpture, and the decorations allows effectively expressing the symbolism of Christianity.

How the Elements Serve As Teaching Tools

The elements used by the planners and architects in the construction of Salisbury Cathedral give a detailed representation of the Christian faith and, in this sense, serve as teaching tools at the same time through the symbolism and images involved. The elements of height and light give the ultimate representation and teaching of the gospel. The cathedral uses these essentials to enhance the education and direct the visitors toward the Christian gospel. The features of different designs having brought together to symbolize unity are a tool for educating people on the importance of unity among them. Considering the fact that the cathedral was built within one generation and still maintains the ultimate strong structure unlike the other cathedrals in England, it has become relatively easy to teach people. 

Conveyance of Particular Lessons from the Bible or the Church through Cathedral’s Works

The works involved in the planning and constructing of Salisbury Cathedral from the first stone to the last bit of it were all based on the faith. In fact, only through trust, Bishop Poore was able to stay firm and complete the construction despite the harsh conditions, especially in the 18th century. It reminds of the lesson from the Bible about people who have to have faith in certain situations and believe that God will help them through difficulties. In this case, Bishop Poore had a vision, remained faithful, and started the construction of the cathedral in 1220, which was successful since he believed that God would help him with the construction till the end (Tatton-Brown & Crook, 2009). Unity is also one of the lessons from the Bible that has been used in the works of the cathedral. The Bible gives a detailed lesson of the need for unity among people in order to stay strong and survive during hard times. This lesson is represented by the works in the cathedral, their strength and lasting state in particular, as there have been different talents and ideologies incorporated since its construction till the present day. 

To conclude, Gothic architecture originated and flourished in the Middle Ages evolving from the Romanesque art and later being replaced by the Renaissance. During this period, many architectural artworks, cathedrals, in particular, were built, including Salisbury Cathedral. This cathedral is considered to be the oldest and the tallest one in England comprising of different elements and structures representing the Christian religion in various aspects. On the whole, the plan, the sculpture, and both interior and exterior decorations of the cathedral symbolize Christianity as a religion that renders its wisdom through the monumental structures. As a result, the elements used in the works serve as teaching tools, which together with the specific symbolism and the lessons from the Bible incorporated into the works in Salisbury continue to impress the visitors.

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