After centuries of regression, Europe experienced between 1120 and 1260 a new period in which the population grew, cities developed, commerce and handicraft industry was reactivated, and schools and universities were founded. Some intellectuals believed that a new age of light was possible. This period of the European history corresponds with the time of the Crusades, an initiative of Christianity to recover the Holy Places, but also an effort to open up to new worlds and new markets. This is the time also when the basic drafts of the new European states were drawn, as well as the feudal monarchies that would end up defining the society and concept of territory and nation that, although notably modified, has reached this beginning of the 21st century. In summary, this was a time in which light and hope seemed to permeated everything, a period in which the Europeans where capable of building the most luminous artistic creations of humanity: the Gothic cathedrals.
The new Gothic cathedrals had to meet two requirements: they needed to reflect the humanistic science taught in the new universities, the culture of light, and at the same time they needed to translate into stone and glass the architectural ideal that was based on the new architectural techniques discovered in Paris in the mid 12th century. And so it was done. The cathedrals that were built between the 12th and 13th century represented the the triumph of the Church and bishop, but also, and above all, the triumph of the city and the citizens. That is why they needed to be a collective work, a result of the combined efforts of all urban sectors; thus, it is common that the names of the architects designing these cathedrals are currently unknown.
The light is essential in the Gothic cathedrals. The buildings act as accumulators of light, a light full of a special kind of magic due to the effect of, regardless the luminosity outside, having always the same light coming into the inside. What the builders of Gothic cathedrals did was to emulate the light of the sun, gather it in sort of stone reliquary, and make it accesible to men. The vision of good was comparable to a sun-ray, but the human eye was not prepared to receive this light directly. For those who built these temples, the essence of divinity contained wisdom, good, beauty, virtue, and eternity, and a Gothic Cathedral brings together all these values. From the sun, the good energies are disseminated and collected in the cathedral to make it available to all the Christian faithful.
Within the long hundred years spanning from the beginnings of the 12th century to the mid 13th century, eighty cathedrals were initiated in the kingdom of France and its vassal states, and some hundreds more across the rest of Europe, together with thousands of abbeys, monasteries, and churches. In order to build them, tens of thousands of artisans (masons, carpenters, bricklayers, blacksmiths, glassmakers, carriers, etc.) were mobilized. Since 1140 when the the abbot of the powerful Saint-Denis Abbey, the influential Suger, commissioned his anonymous architect the construction of the apse for his new church using wide openings to allow the entry of streams of light, the medieval architects began to experiment with architectonic solutions that would allow opening the heavy and massive walls of the Romanic churches to install increasingly bigger and wider windows.
The writer Paul Claudel (1868-1955), enraptured by the imposing beauty of the Chartres Cathedral, exclaimed the following: "Here is Paradise recovered!". And the truth is that the Chartres Cathedral was indeed conceived as an image of Paradise. It was not by chance, because at least since the 10th century Chartres had a great school, in which at the beginning of the 12th century the great Bernard of Chartres was master. He was the author of the famous quote "We are are like dwarves perched on the shoulders of giants". That same school was also the training ground of John of Salisbury (1115-1178) who was author of Polycraticus, the first first medieval treatise on civil power, and who became Bishop of the city.
A not proven tradition claims that the constructors of the gothic cathedrals called themselves "the children of Solomon"; and there are definitely a few miniatures dating from the 13th century that represent the Temple of Solomon as a golden gothic cathedral. That was precisely the intention when Gothic art was created. The demons flee from light because light comes from God. in the book of Genesis it is written that the Lord ordered to let there be light, and there was light. The Lord ended the darkness the wrapped the universe, and Christ defeated the demon whose purpose is no other than ending the light that redeems man's sins. And the Cathedral of Chartres is one of its most brilliant examples.
The historians insist in the role played by the phenomenon of the apparition of cities in the genesis of the gothic society attitudes. The growth of the feudal society produced the cities. The city was built over three logics: commerce, uprooting and individuality. The interrelated game of the three gave way to new behavioral patterns, which upon the tests of growth stop posed by the demographic crisis of the Black Death and the religious schism of the West, produced new attitudes. Six are the most relevant and my conference will be focused on their presentation and exemplification:
1. The progress of individualism, 2. The advances of physical and social cells, 3. The strengthening of the measure and the reason, 4. A certain realignment of the perception of the society and their attitudes towards life and death, 5. The strengthening of the sense of modernity, and 6. The belief that knowledge is power.