Visual Evidence: The Gothic Cathedral at Chartres

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Visual Evidence: The Gothic Cathedral at Chartres
This activity corresponds to the "Visual Evidence: The Gothic Cathedral at Chartres" feature in your textbook. The questions below are designed to help you learn more about the topic. Once you have answered the Comprehension questions, submit your answers and move on to the subsequent questions included in the Analysis and Outside Sources sections. Each section is designed to build upon the one before it, taking you progressively deeper into the subject you are studying. After you have answered all of the questions, you will have the option of emailing your responses to your instructor.

In 1136, Suger, abbot of the monastery of Sainte Denis near Paris, launched a project to rebuild and beautify the old abbey church. Among the improvements, added during the project, were windows of colorful stained glass and an ambulatory around the altar vaulted with pointed arches. The renovated abbey church inaugurated a new architectural style in the Western Europe, the gothic, which reached its high point in the great cathedrals of the later twelfth and thirteenth centuries. The cathedral at Chartres is one of the most famous examples of the style, but others, just as notable, rose elsewhere in France, as well as England, Spain, Germany, and Italy. Along with the new style in architecture, a new style developed in sculpture, and cathedral builders devised new ways of integrating structure and decoration. Use the links and questions below to learn more about Chartres and the gothic style.


1. What makes the front of the Chartres cathedral unusual?

2. What major engineering challenge did medieval builders face? How did they solve it?
3. What did the solution to that challenge enable cathedral builders to do?

1. The gothic style grew out of the earlier Romanesque style that dominated sacred architecture until the twelfth century. An example of the Romanesque style is the abbey church of Saint Philibert in Burgundy in southern France. Examine the following two images the church:



Now take a look at two views of the interior of Chartres cathedral:



How would you describe the defining characteristics of the Romanesque style, and how do those resemble and differ from the gothic style?

2. Chartres cathedral was built (and rebuilt) over a period of about 115 years. During that time, artistic styles evolved. Take a look at two samples of the sculpture decorating the main entrance to the cathedral:



How would you characterize the sculpture in the first image? How does the sculpture in the second image resemble and differ from that in the first?

3. Now take a look at views of three other French gothic cathedrals, all begun about the same time or after Chartres:

  • Sens Cathedral (begun 1140):

  • Amiens Cathedral (begun 1220):

  • Sainte Chapelle, Paris, upper chapel (15th century):

How did the gothic style in France develop over a period of about three hundred years?

Outside Sources

1. Take a look at some examples of gothic architecture outside of France:

  • England, Salisbury Cathedral (1200–1275):

  • Germany, Regensburg Cathedral (begun 1285/90):

  • Spain, Cathedral of Santa Eulalia, Barcelona (13th–15th centuries):

  • Italy, Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore, Florence (begun 1296):

How do these structures resemble the French examples you have already examined? What distinctive regional features can you detect?

2. Go to and read a brief overview of medieval sculpture for buildings. How did classical sculpture influence medieval architectural sculpture? How did medieval sculptors adapt their productions to the features and proportions of the buildings to which they contributed?
3. At, read more about medieval stained glass. How was the glass made and the windows assembled?

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