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5 / Cosmology and Belief

Aerial View of Notre Dame Cathedral
Aerial View of Notre Dame Cathedral
Artist / Origin Unknown architect(s), France
Region: Europe
Date ca. 1163–1345
Material Stone
Dimensions L: approx. 420 ft. (128 m.), W: 157½ ft. (48 m.) (transept)
Location Ile de la Cité, Paris, France
Credit © Yann Arthus-Bertrand/CORBIS

Additional Resources

Calkins, Robert G. Medieval Architecture in Western Europe: From A.D. 300 to 1500. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 1998.

Camille, Michael. Gothic Art: Glorious Visions. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2003.

Frankl, Paul. Gothic Architecture, 2nd rev. ed. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2001.

Recht, Roland. Believing and Seeing: The Art of Gothic Cathedrals. Translated by Mary Whittall. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008.

Stokstad, Marilyn. Medieval Art, 2nd ed. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 2004.

Aerial View of Notre Dame Cathedral

» Unknown architect(s), France

Notre Dame in Paris is representative of a new type of monumental church building that emerged in the medieval period.

New engineering techniques allowed for larger and more numerous windows, pointed or ogive arches, delicately traced rose windows, ribbed vaults, and higher walls—all held aloft by the bracing of flying buttresses that circled the structure’s exterior without interrupting the visual and religious experience within. Characteristic of the Gothic style, the architecture at Notre Dame puts an emphasis on light cast through clear and stained glass and soaring vertical lines. These features were intended to transport the worshipper from mundane reality by lifting the mind heavenward.

The exterior of the building foreshadows both the physical space and symbolic significance of the interior. A transverse, or horizontal, structure bisects the nave (the length of the church) to create a cruciform shape as seen in this aerial view of Notre Dame. The form of the cross evokes Christ’s suffering and death and the promise of salvation it implies. Although the shape of the building is more difficult to perceive when standing within, it would have been no less meaningful to worshippers. With the sacrifice of Christ reenacted through the sacrament of Mass on the high altar of the cathedral, the symbolism of the church’s cruciform plan was not merely germane, but profound.

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