[Church of the Abbaye de la Trinité in Vendôme, France, 13th century, photographed by Chatmouettes, source: Wikimedia Commons]
[Marienkirche in Lübeck, Germany, 13th century, photographed by Thomas Möller Roggenhorst, source, Wikimedia Commons]
The use of pointed arches allowed 11th and 12th century (already widely used in the Arab world) allowed European architects to build their churches somewhat taller, but until the invention of the flying buttress, there was only so high they could go. Where rounded arches direct much of the weight resting on them outward, pointed arches send more of that force downward. As a result, they can be made taller without making the base any wider.
[Rounded Arch and Equilateral Pointed Arch, 2005, drawn by Mats Halldin, source: Wikimedia Commons (here and here)]
[Westminster Cathedral, photographed by Tagishsimon, 19th century, source: Wikimedia Commons]
Now obviously I didn’t know any of this as a small child, but they looked awesome and I thought that if “buttress” was a really cool word,*** then “flying buttress” sounded even cooler. Years later, learning just how they work and what they made possible only made my love of them stronger. They really are so cool.
[Page from the sketchbook of Villard de Honnecourt, c. 1230, France, source: Wikimedia Commons]
**Well, it works even if it’s placed a little too low, but it doesn’t work nearly as well.
***You can’t tell me the word “buttress” doesn’t have a really cool sound to it. Well, you can. You’ll just be wrong.
Beverley Minster at Beverley, England
Santa Maria in Cosmedin at Rome, Italy
Ambulatory of St. Denis at Paris, France
Notre Dame du Port at Clermont-Ferrand, France
Cross-section of a Gothic Cathedral
Stalley, Roger. Early Medieval Architecture. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999.
Stephenson, Carl. Mediaeval HIstory: Europe from the Second to the Sixteenth Century. New York: Harper & Row, 1962.
David Macaulay, "Cathedral," PBS, aired 1985. Found on YouTube.
Flying Buttress - Wikipedia