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High Middle Ages: The Search for Synthesis

Outline Chapter 10

Outline Chapter 10: High Middle Ages: The Search For Synthesis
The Significance of Paris The Gothic Style Suger's Building Program for Saint Denis The Mysticism of Light The Many Meanings of the Gothic Cathedral Music: The School of Notre Dame Scholastism The Rise of the Universities Francis of Assisi Thomas Aquinas Dante's Divine Comedy

Timeline Chapter 10

Timeline Chapter 10: High Middle Ages: The Search For Synthesis 1121 Abelard, Sic et Non; birth of Scholasticism 1140 Abbot Suger begins rebuilding Abbey Church of Saint Denis; Gothic style evolves: use of pointed arch, flying buttress, and window tracery c. 1163 Oxford University founded 1194 Chartres Cathedral destroyed by fire; rebuilding begins 1195 (ends 1260) c. 1209 Cambridge University founded 1215 Magna Carta, limiting powers of king, signed in England 1220-1269 Cathedral of Amiens c. 1220 Growth begins of mendicant friars; Franciscans, Dominicans c. 1224-1226 Saint Francis of Assisi, "Canticle of Brother Sun" c. 1267-1273 Aquinas, Summa Theologica 1301-1321 Dante, Divine Comedy

Urbanization and the Rise of the Middle Class

The High Middle Ages saw the growth of a number of institutions that stood in sharp contrast to those of the Carolingian period. Foremost was the rise of the city. Urbanization brought with it a lessening of the importance of monastic life as a cultural center and the emergence of the influence of the bishop and the cathedral school. The increased need for a "knowledge class" triggered an expansion in education that would eventually lead to the university of scholars. Urbanization also warred against the old feudal values; it fostered trade and commerce; it made possible the growth of what today we would call a "middle class" who stood on the social ladder between the rural peasant/city worker and the landed royalty or hereditary aristocracy.

Intellectual Ferment and Advance

The twelfth and thirteenth centuries were times of intense intellectual ferment and advance. New sources of knowledge came through Arabic sources either as original contributions (e.g., in medicine and science) or in the form of lost works of the classical past (e.g., the writings of Aristotle) to fuel the work of scholars. Advances in technology as "spinoffs" from the ambitious plans of both Romanesque and Gothic architects had their impact. The increase of a money economy aided the growth of artistic and musical culture.

Rationality in the Service of God

One conspicuous characteristic of medieval culture was its belief that everything knowable could be expressed in a manageable and rational whole. Whether it appeared in stone (Chartres) or technical prose (Thomas Aquinas) or in poetry (Dante), the medieval mind saw hierarchy, order, intelligibility, and, above all, God in all of observable creation. This hierarchy expressed itself in its emphasis on advancing steps of understanding. The sculptural program of Chartres, for example, is a revelation of the Old Testament figures who point us to their proper fulfillment in the New. In the theology of Aquinas we move from the plane of natural reason to a fuller truth taught by revelation. In Dante we progress from an awareness of our sinful nature to an intuition into the nature of God. In all of these cases the emphasis is on harmony and gradation and a final purpose of all knowledge, which is to become aware of God. In that sense, at least, much of medieval culture could be said to be oriented in an otherworldly manner.


Massive front hall (narthex) or vestibule in between have and west entrance of cathedral Rose window perfect shapes of Christian works in circles or squares Royal portals entrances arches of the faade (front) Twin towers historical lineage from French kings; provides balanced frame for Rose windows Ribbed vault Large glass windows Flying buttresses supporting armatures to transmit the thrust of the vault or roof to an outer support Strong Vertical Themes

Portrait of Suger from St. Denis

Portrait of Suger, Abbot of Saint-Denis Infancy Window, Annunciation Panel, c 1140

Diagram of Nave St. Denis

St Denis, Interior

View of the choir and north transept at St. Denis.

St Denis, Interior

St Denis, Exterior

Gothic Cathedral Construction

This diagram shows the main sections of a Gothic cathedral.

Chapel of Sainte Chapelle, Paris, France, 1243 - 1248

Chartres Cathedral, Chartres, France, 1194 to 1260.

Chartres Cathedral, exterior, main facade

Chartres Cathedral, exterior, side with facade

Chartres Cathedral, interior, clerestory, stained glass

Chartres Cathedral, beasts of the Apocalypselion, ox

Chartres Cathedral, stained-glass window, early 13th century.

Amiens Cathedral,

Saint Francis of Assisi

Berlinghieri, St. Francis Altarpiece (c. 1235) Tempera on wood, Church of San Francesco, Pescia.

St. Thomas Aquinas

Triumph of St. Thomas Aquinas and the Allegory of the Sciences -- Sacred and Secular Left Wall, Spanish Chapel, Santa Maria Novella, Florence, Italy Fresco painted by Andrea di Bonaiuta

Dantes Divine Comedy

Hell - a terrifying representation of Hell that certainly inspired Dante when he wrote his Divine Comedy. Florence Cathedral, mosaic