gothic vaults


The Cathedral of Santa Maria of Palma, in Mallorca (Balearic Islands), was built from 1229 to 1601.

It has the 2nd biggest rose window in the world (more than 13 meters wide).
It is 44 m (144 ft) tall, which makes it the 8th highest cathedral in the world.
And the gothic pillars sustaining the vaults are the narrowest in the world.

I know flying buttress is a term that always gets a giggle, but this architectural feature is fascinating - it’s a unique creation of Gothic architecture, and it’s symptomatic of the desire of medieval builders to flood their churches and cathedrals with light. Why? Because light was considered the best means through which humans could know God. Churches are almost always oriented so that the congregation faces east to worship - towards the sun, so that God’s grace showers upon them through the gorgeous stained glass. Medieval people wanted light to penetrate every corner of the interior space. But to get light into your building, you need to build high and keep the interior open and airy, and this leads to concerns with points of support. So builders developed solutions which are recognisable to us as the defining features of Gothic architecture - ribbed vaults, pointed arches and our dear friend the flying buttress, all of which allow you to build high and let in light while maintaining structural integrity. So there you go - the flying buttress was invented because medieval builders believed that the best way to know God and experience his benediction was through sunlight and geometric regularity - new architectural forms were invented to solve problems generated by theological philosophy.

San José Church, Old San Juan, Puerto Rico by Mike Innocenzi on Flickr.

San José Church:  The old Church of San José in San Juan, was built in 1532, and is the second oldest church in the Americas; One of the few examples of 16th century Spanish Gothic architecture that have survived in the Western Hemisphere. The building exhibits four centuries of architectural design and traditional masonry that includes the extraordinary Isabeline Gothic vaults of rare Catalan architectural design. The land on which the church was built was donated by Governor Don Juan Ponce de Leon, who was also the first to be buried there.