page contents

The Goth of the 13th Century

 Exterior of Burgos Cathedral. Author: Maria Ng [CC BY-NC-ND 4.0]. Edited with Canva. 

Exterior of Burgos Cathedral. Author: Maria Ng [CC BY-NC-ND 4.0]. Edited with Canva. 

When the word “Gothic” comes to mind, we're sure thoughts of dark haunted houses or even ghostly pale people in all black fills your head. However, this post will alter your perception of “Gothic”. Contrary to the "emo" image Goths have, the original Gothic style was actually created to bring sunshine into people’s lives, and mainly into churches.


Before Gothic architecture, castles and early medieval buildings were quite unpleasant to live or worship in. Skills and resources for building were scarce. Only basic stones were used and they were so poorly built that it cannot support the stone roofing and big glass windows. Thus, these buildings tended to be dark and run-down. Therefore, the aim of Gothic architecture was to be the exact opposite of those style of building. 

By the 12th Century, Romanesque architecture had a firm position all over Europe. This style was the foundation of most medieval buildings. Gothic architecture was derived from the Romanesque. Most elements of the Romanesque architecture - stained glass windows, ribbed vaults and buttresses. The distinct difference between these two styles were the pointed arches. 

One of the early patrons of Gothic architecture was Suger - an Abbot of St. Dennis near France. When he initially sought to convert the church into a place for pilgrimages and royal worship, he sought the emerging Gothic style. This is because of the soaring heights and curtain walls that comes with Gothic architecture. He felt that art was significant to religious experience.


It emphasised on making buildings bright, airy, and reconstructed castles and churches into more enjoyable and majestic environments.

Membrane-thin frameworks were used to build walls for enclosure as they can only support their own weight. External flying buttresses supported the weight of walls and roofs. Enormous stained glass windows were implemented to allow more light to penetrate and give a sense of warmth and color. For example, the stained glass used for Chartres Cathedral are 94% original, making it the largest and the most comprehensive collection of medieval glass in the world. 

In addition, the impressive height of the buildings where they used pointed arches and slender columns scaled new heights. The middle class also played a role in influencing the Gothic style as they wanted churches that could reflect their economic power and social status.

Gothic style is still extremely popular today, and is the desired design for new churches, cathedrals and similar buildings in Europe and the Americas. Most of the key characteristics of it have been changed though, to fit into more modern architectural designs.

Fun fact: Back in Medieval times, the term ‘Gothic architecture’ was not used. Instead, it was called 'Modern Style'.


 Inside the Cathedral. Author: Maria Ng. [CC BY-NC-ND 4.0]. Edited with Canva. 

Inside the Cathedral. Author: Maria Ng. [CC BY-NC-ND 4.0]. Edited with Canva. 

Gothic architecture was developed from a Christian perspective and was a symbol of its growth. We can observe an accurate representation of Gothic architecture through many churches and cathedrals. The rise of Gothic architecture originated from a change of perspective in Christianity. Instead of an intellectual and spiritual concept, Clerics (a priest) came to have a more rational view of God, and saw God embracing many things, such as light, reason and proportion. Another reason for this shift was because of an increase in religious dedication. People spent an average of three days a week at a worship service, hence church leaders pursued an architectural style which created an ambience of wonder and grandeur for anyone who enters a church. A main objective was to provide more light to enter.

Gothic churches then created a setting that attracted light and purity, which also represents heaven. They adapted to this new perspective by changing the design of roofs in churches/cathedrals. Previously, Romanesque cathedrals had thick perpetual walls that took up a lot of space to support the roof, which resulted in small and dim interiors. However, Gothic architecture dismissed this concept by supporting the roofs along the ceilings and walls. Consequently, Gothic cathedrals/churches could be built a lot higher and thinner (which means more interior space and windows). Thus, more light could seep through and the windows can be used for Biblical and sacred art. Moreover, the tall columns gave churches a dramatic interior that served to reinforce the power of the church.


 Entrance of the Cathedral. Author: Maria Ng. [CC BY-NC-ND 4.0]. Edited with Canva

Entrance of the Cathedral. Author: Maria Ng. [CC BY-NC-ND 4.0]. Edited with Canva

At the heart of the historic centre in the city of Burgos, one of the finest example of Gothic architecture - The Burgos Cathedral, can be found. Built in 1221, the Cathedral was completed in 1567, following a 200 years hiatus during construction. The Cathedral houses one of the most extensive collection of Gothic masterpieces from its time. The Cathedral is also known by a different name - Cathedral de Santa Maria de Burgos. The Cathedral was the idea of King Ferdinand III and Mauricio, Bishop of Burgos back in the 1200s. It was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1984 and stands today as one of the most magnificent churches in Spain.

Where in the world is Burgos?

Inside the Cathedral, there are 15 chapels but some of the highlights of the Cathedral includes the main altar, the Golden staircase, the statue of the Papamoscas flycatcher and the tomb of Rodrigo Diaz de Vivar and wife Dona Jimna that was added in 1919. The Cathedral was designed by many famous architects – Juan de Colonia, Simon de Colonia and Felipe de Borgoña.

The foundation of the Cathedral was actually a Romanesque chapel but as the town expanded as the capital of a kingdom, a powerful bishopric and an increasingly dynamic business centre, there was a need to expand to accommodate the increase in the number of people.

The Cathedral highlights the Gothic Architecture through its rib vaults which allows for more windows to build in the upper level, allowing more light to enter and creates a pointed arch. In the first picture above, a map of the Cathedral shows how huge the entire complex is. (It's actually 10,300 sq metres which means, it's about 114 times a typical 4 Room HDB Flat)  Each number corresponds to a chapel, each with its own distinctive design. Many of its decorative features are also Gothic in nature. As seen in the pictures above, the Facade of Saint Mary shows the pointed arches that are distinctively Gothic in nature. While the Sacramental Door was one of the best Classic Gothic sculpture in the 13th Century and it depicts Christ in his majesty


Before this, architecture was functional but with the advent of the Gothic style, architecture is now beautiful. The Gothic style with its high arches, tall columns and rib vaults allow more light to enter the buildings. Stained glass art and sculptures enhances the style aesthetically, making the Gothic style one of the most remembered and iconic eras of architecture till this day. The Cathedral of Burgos stands today as one of the most classic examples that highlights the main features of Gothic architecture.