Westminster, when it was built, was the tallest cathedral in England. Before that, English Gothic didn’t emphasize height the same way that continental Europe was doing at the time. The cathedral, with it’s gargoyles, intricate stonework and flying buttresses, is quite a sight to behold. Hearing of how the buttresses take on the building’s weight was fascinating. Westminster remains a testament to the fact that sophisticated civilization didn’t begin with our civilization. It’s one thing to hear about other great civilizations, to read about them and discuss them in the classroom, but it really knocks you over the head when you see the creations of other cultures up close. Especially when up close is this complex building towering over your head.

Hearing about the significance of the direction of the building, the history of how it was built, and comparing it with other Gothic styles builds respect for their culture. They didn’t build things willy-nilly, or in pure imitation of other cultures, but out of a careful consideration for the significance of certain choices. For instance, the English believed the altar to be of utmost importance, so their Gothic style meant drawing  the eye to the cathedral, not to height/light. Admiring Westminster helps me to understand the unifying force that religion was to the Europe of the 20th century. Through the Catholic religion, cultures could come into contact with other artistic styles and modes of expression. It’s interesting to pay attention to the different details of cathedrals in order to understand how the English culture understood its religion. Experiencing God through the space of his places of worship makes much more sense after experiencing one of the pinnacles of English design of God’s space.

 

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