Differences Between Gothic & Romanesque Cathedrals

Written by juliana crespo
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Differences Between Gothic & Romanesque Cathedrals
Light-filled, spacious interiors differentiate Gothic cathedrals from Romanesque cathedrals. (Jupiterimages/Polka Dot/Getty Images)

The differences between Romanesque and Gothic cathedrals point to the shifting ideologies of the time. Romanesque cathedrals reflect a preoccupation with permanence and stability, whereas Gothic architecture mirrors an aesthetic sensibility and dynamic mindset.

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Romanesque and Gothic: Dominating Art Styles During the Middle ages

Romanesque and Gothic architecture were the dominating art styles in Western Europe during the Middle Ages.

Romanesque architecture, a style which emphasised permanence and stability, began in the seventh century and lasted until the 12th century. Gothic architecture, on the other hand, was a later concept based on an aesthetic sensibility. It began in France and England in the 12th century, and by the 13th century, had spread to Germany.

Romanesque and Gothic Cathedrals: A Reflection of Shifting Ideologies

Romanesque cathedrals, with solid structures, thick walls, and sparse decor, reflect the permanence, stability, and eternal quality that Christian clergy strove for at the time. The simple geometric designs symbolise the main preoccupation with practicality.

Gothic cathedrals, with slight structural frames, flying buttresses, and pointed arches, display a more artistic sensibility and a dynamism uncharacteristic of Romanesque cathedrals.

More Differentiating Characteristics

Romanesque cathedrals have rounded arches and are low structures, which immediately distinguish it from Gothic cathedrals. Gothic cathedrals have pointed arches and higher walls.

Whereas Romanesque cathedrals are dimly lighted due to small windows and solid structure, Gothic cathedrals have many large windows with stained glass, creating an effect of luminosity and light.

Gargoyles, which were believed to keep away evil, are another distinguishing feature of Gothic cathedrals.

Famous Romanesque and Gothic Cathedrals

Romanesque cathedrals are known for permanence and stability. The cathedrals are resistant and durable structures that provided safe spaces for praying clergy. A famous Romanesque cathedral is St. Sernin, in Toulouse, France.

Gothic cathedrals are celebrated for an entirely different reason altogether. Whereas Romanesque cathedrals are known to be safe spaces, Gothic cathedrals are embraced for their elegance and beauty. Several famous gothic cathedrals are St. Denis, Notre Dame, Chartres, Salisbury, Durham, and Amiens.

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