Being constructed numerous centuries ago (1163 – 1240s), Notre Dame de Paris has become a symbol of architectural achievements, visual masterpieces, and technological renovations specific to the Gothic style such as rib vaults, pointed arches, flying buttresses, gargoyles, stained glass windows, and so forth (see fig. 1). The history of its construction, synthesis of medieval arts, and evolution of the Gothic style are clearly expressed in Notre Dame de Paris. The majestic building of Notre Dame Cathedral represents the harmonious embodiment of the medieval Christian ideas, technological innovations, increased consciousness of urban populations, and new humans’ perception of the world.
Although the term “Gothic” was initially used to identify everything “rude and barbarous”, today, this style is associated with outstanding medieval phenomena, artworks, advancements, and events. According to contemporary scholars, the Gothic artworks symbolized medieval Christian beliefs and majestically expressed “the age of faith” (Fiero 307). Evoking feelings of adoration and awe of Christian precepts, Gothic style encompasses magnificent cathedrals, stained glass, wall paintings, sculptures, and other remarkable objects. Today, Gothic cathedrals have become one of the most outstanding cultural achievements of the Medieval Christian heritage, though, they were constructed in the time of rudimentary technological advances and exhausting manual labor.
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The transition from the Romanesque to the Gothic style was accompanied by a series of technological innovations, which were stylistically interpreted in the history of Gothic. The development of pointed arches and their application in the construction triggered changes in architectural thinking and promoted further innovations. Such structural elements of Gothic cathedrals were first used in the construction of Notre Dame de Paris around 1170 (Fiero 309; Clark 64). Despite the obvious effect of their applications, flying buttresses were frequently modified and reconstructed due to arising structural requirements, demolitions, and various destructive impacts. Therefore, in order to trace back their transformation and contribution to the development of the Gothic style, it is necessary to use the evidence-oriented scholarly sources and pertinent literature, clarifying the history of flying buttresses.
The gargoyles of Notre Dame de Paris are another representation of Gothic architecture. Medieval architects placed them on buildings to section off the flow of the water to reduce the possible damage that a storm or hurricane could make. Thus, they served as a prototype model of the contemporary water removal systems. However, the utilization of gargoyles in Gothic cathedrals is frequently associated with ideas of religious and spiritual nature.
Gargoyles and flying buttresses are clear examples of Gothic architecture, which were seen starting from the 12th century specifically in cathedrals, abbeys, and churches all around Europe. The purpose of this paper is to explore the history of the gargoyles and flying buttresses of Notre Dame de Paris and investigate their specificity, connecting their original application with impacts on the development of Gothic architecture and construction.
The complete evaluation of the flying buttresses and gargoyles of Notre Dame Cathedral should consider their historical background, functionality, structural specificity, and visual characteristics and contemporary conditions.
The aerial building of Notre-Dame de Paris is an example of the early Gothic architecture intensified by vertical lines, lancet arches, and flying buttresses. These constructive elements of Notre Dame Cathedral allowed its architects to make the walls with large windows and carve rosacea. Medieval builders adopted novel practices, taking into consideration bottlenecks and superior features of existing buildings. Architects tried to avoid previous weaknesses in new projects. For instance, the detection of cracks in the masonry and mortar often led to changes in the structure, inducing the emergence of new solutions that are able to increase the strength of the building.
Flying buttresses were first designed to relieve the outward pressure in extremely high Gothic cathedrals. In accordance with the definition provided by Kleiner, flying buttresses are “exterior arches that spring from the lower roofs over the aisles and ambulatory and counter the outward thrust of the nave vaults” (Kleiner 468). They consisted of two basic parts: the uprights and the flyers (Clark 64). Medieval builders generally constructed two tiers of flying buttresses. The top tier was designed to support the roof, which became steeper and heavier over time. The second tier of flying buttresses resisted winds, pressing on the roof of cathedrals.
Flying buttresses became a characteristic feature of Gothic buildings. Issues related to the development and applications of these technological innovations in the Middle Ages comprise a focal interest of historians and architects. The given fact can be illustrated by changes in the utilization and construction of such innovation as the flying buttresses of Notre Dame Cathedral.
Flying buttresses are generally associated with the Gothic architecture, though they were used in a disguised form in Byzantine and Romanesque buildings. However, since the 12th century, still functioning as a load balancer, flying buttresses became specially paraded decorative elements and were used in such famous buildings as the Cathedral of Chartres, Notre Dame Cathedral, Reims Cathedral, and other Gothic buildings. During the 13th century and afterward, “cathedrals increased in structural and ornamental complexity. Flying buttresses became ornate stone wings terminating in minichapels that housed individual statues of saints and martyrs” (Fiero 311).
The 12th century’s reference wall over the gallery of the South transept of Notre Dame Cathedral has preserved original contours of the flying buttresses that supported the upper tier of the outer wall. This archaeological evidence demonstrates that the first flying buttresses were linked with the upper row of the walls at the site located at half the height of original windows; those were significantly below the cathedral roof. In the 13th century, upper arches were replaced by huge flying buttresses; this reconstruction allowed builders to increase windows. According to archaeological findings, the original system of buttresses included two separate tiers of flying buttresses. The upper-tier underpinned the top of gallery walls with windows, while the lower tier supported walls of the external gallery, resisting the lateral pressure passed through upper buttresses.
The upper flying buttresses were connected to the main wall at about the center of windows originally located there. The lower flying buttresses remained almost untouched until the restoration performed by Viollet-le-Duc in the 19th century, therefore, their size and shape can be identified by using drawings and photographs taken before the restoration work.
The upper flying buttresses were replaced by new giant flying buttresses, covering both sides of the nave. The necessity to increase the access of light to the cathedral caused these changes in design. In comparison with cathedrals of that time, the floor of Notre Dame Cathedral was illuminated worse because of its high walls and small windows (see fig. 2). “The primary goal in building these cathedrals was the illumination of interior spaces“ (Scott 119). Therefore, architects of Notre-Dame decided to make the cathedral lighter through better-illuminated choirs. Performing multiple reconstructions of the nave, builders raised cloister vaults and expanded windows. They had to change flying buttresses because they were structural constituents of walls. Hence, according to this hypothesis, the design changes were associated with the need to increase the size of windows.
Furthermore, structural adjustments of original flying buttresses could be implemented in order to improve their initial design. Unexpected critical values of tensile forces negatively influenced the stability of flying buttresses and the whole cathedral. Severe storms reduced the durability of flying buttresses, resulting in cracks and inducing urgent repairs. The maintenance of flying buttresses was a complicated process due to the inaccessibility of sites. Subsequently, the junction of new giant flying buttresses to the wall was significantly higher, at the same time reduced the thrust on flying buttresses of the lower gallery.
Because of its high altitude, Notre Dame Cathedral was exposed to significant wind loads. The need to increase the stability of the walls of the nave against winds and at the same time to expand quarrels led to the construction of the first flying buttresses. In the 13th century, flying buttresses were rebuilt due to existing structural problems; their new design allowed builders to lower the roof of the gallery and increase the size of windows of the upper tier.
Technological advances implemented in the construction of the Cathedral of Notre-Dame de Paris have made a significant impact on the Gothic architecture of the beginning of the 13th century, including many cathedrals, small churches, chapels, and secular buildings.
Despite the fact that the gargoyles are typical Gothic monsters, their own origin dates back to the ancient civilizations of Greece and Egypt. The cultural heritage of ancient Egypt possessed a record number of zoomorphic gods and the Egyptians were the first people, who started to actively use images of monstrous creatures in painting and architecture. Greek mythology is also actively exploited stories about various hybrid creatures. Although gutters as components of the house equipment were uncommon in ancient Greece, drains were sometimes designed as stone lion’s heads with the open mouths, symbolizing the power of Greece, protecting people from enemies at home, and scaring away evil spirits.
Protruding far from cathedral walls and protecting constructions from erosion, gargoyles were a prototype of gutters (see fig. 3). Gargoyles are “waterspouts in the form of grotesque figures or hybrid beasts” (Fiero 311). Mysterious architectural monsters that did not fulfill this function were called chimeras or grotesque monsters (basilisks, griffins, etc.).The practical use of medieval gargoyles is obvious; however, the variety of these ancient figures is difficult to rationalize completely.
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These structures were primarily designed to divert water from the walls of Notre-Dame de Paris. If they were not used for their intended purpose, they served as decorations of buildings. Gargoyles are architectural stone works that resemble humanoid creatures; they were believed to be mythological beings. These large figures were traditionally placed near the top of cathedrals so that they could be seen from afar. “Gargoyles, serpents, lascivious men and women, baboons, monkeys, pagan Green Men, and fabulous figures that are half animal and half human mysteriously emerge” from the walls of Notre Dame Cathedral (Scott 225). Images of serpents and baboons are the most widespread. The serpent was perceived as a symbol of the constant struggle between good and evil. Moreover, it often symbolized envy, one of the seven deadly sins. Serpents were considered to be immortal, personifying eternal righteous struggle against sins. In order to achieve one of their main functions and scare off evil spirits, most gargoyles were designed with open mouths as if they were devouring giants. Furthermore, “If gargoyles went against the grain of modern architectural theory at the time, they were also vilified in the popular imagination” (Camille 14). Thus, gargoyles were ornamental, religious, and protective appliances of Notre Dame de Paris.
Although the first gargoyles were wooden, later they were mainly made of stone and marble. In addition, brick was never used. Today, researchers believe that they were hewn separately and then inserted into cathedral walls. Gargoyles’ coloration has dramatically changed due to the destructive impacts of water, dirt, wind, and fluctuations in temperature. The construction of Notre Dame Cathedral lasted numerous decades; the building survived due to some restorations. Therefore, today, it is complicated to determine the exact age of its gargoyles. In case the first drains were made of wood, they were quickly destroyed and demanded the dismantling of their sculptural details; this fact does not clarify the date of gargoyles’ occurrence. For the purposes of research, it can be assumed that the first gargoyles were designed in the beginning of the construction of Notre Dame Cathedral. Sculptors were completely free in their choice of zoological preimages for monster statues; it resulted in the overwhelming diversity of gargoyles’ appearances. Initially, they had a very small size, and animal traits dominated in their appearance. Gargoyles of the 13th century were larger (up to one meter in length) and humanlike. Later, architects increased the number of small components, gargoyles became slimmer and lighter but the specific share of the grotesque and caricature in these sculptures increased markedly. In the 19th century, “The originals had been removed in various stages during the Age of Reason because they were in such a ruinous state, but also because they were seen as signs of medieval irrationality” (Camille 14).
The population of Medieval Europe was largely illiterate, so it is possible to presume that gargoyles, along with other sculptures of Notre Dame Cathedral, were aimed at supporting and promoting the fundamentals of religion and mysticism. The necessity to scare off the forces of darkness could stipulate the inimitable monstrousness of gargoyles. However, the frequent utilization of gargoyles in secular construction, as well as the fact that a considerable height of Notre Dame Cathedral did not allow people to observe the external decor of gargoyles from the ground, contradicts this hypothesis.
Notre Dame de Paris was purposefully built to honor Christian saints, specifically the Virgin Mary, serving the prime example “of a sacred place, and the relics, statuary, altars, and other material objects they contain are examples of sacred objects” (Scott 147). It soared heavenward due to its specific type of construction, thus, reflecting one of the basic Christian ideas of salvation in the heavens (Fiero 307). The harmonious combination of the cathedral’s sculptural ensemble and medieval architecture, the stylistic diversity of statuary, extraordinary size, fine tapestries, impressive rosacea, grandiose heavenward towers, and stained glass windows contribute to the uniqueness of Notre Dame de Paris.
Novel technological solutions, videlicet flying buttresses, and gargoyles were designed and implemented to provide the building with stability and durability. Notre Dame de Paris served as both a cult institution and municipal center; religious, public, social, theological, administrative, and political ceremonies were held there. Thus, its building had to correspond to these purposes; it had to be efficiently illuminated and impressively decorated. In addition, the cathedral had to hold numerous believers during ceremonies. These requirements stipulated such reconstructions and improvements in the design of flying buttresses and gargoyles.
Furthermore, the gargoyles of Notre Dame de Paris were placed on the building in order to support religious beliefs and mystical ideas specific to the Middle Ages, although their primary goal was to divert the water and protect the building of the cathedral. Their appearance and structure contributed to the impression made by the cathedral on medieval churchgoers. The restoration work was undertaken in the 19th century significantly changed the exterior of the gargoyles; however, their initial appearance can be identified via authentic images provided by reliable scholarly sources.
In accordance with research findings and historical investigations conducted by Scott, Fiero, Camille, Clark, Seymour, Scott, and other scientists, the flying buttresses were first constructed to relieve the outward pressure in the extremely high Cathedral of Notre Dame de Paris. However, they have transformed afterward; their initial parameters and structural components were changed. Structural adjustments of the original flying buttresses of Notre Dame de Paris were caused by external circumstances; their materials, structural elements, and exterior were modified due to destructive impacts of weather conditions, emerging requirements for the cathedral’s building, and novel technological advances.
Technological advances and structural elements utilized in the construction of the Cathedral of Notre-Dame de Paris has made significant impacts on the Gothic architecture of the beginning of the 13th century, including many cathedrals, small churches, chapels, and secular buildings.
In conclusion, Notre Dame de Paris is a significantly valuable source of historical, religious, technological, and sociocultural knowledge. Artworks and constructive elements of this astonishing building provide its visitors and churchgoers with unique opportunities to reveal sociocultural peculiarities, ideals, views, beliefs, and technological achievements of their ancestors and, thus, objectively evaluate and determine their own perspectives.