Gothic buildings look totally different from the kind of architecture that was inspired by the example of Rome. Gothic is more recent than the Romanesque but, like that form of architecture, it achieves its greatest expression in the service of the Christian church. The plans of Gothic buildings - abbey churches, cathedrals and monasteries - grow out of the patterns established by Romanesque builders but the spirit of the architecture is quite new.

Gothic begins in France at the abbey church of St.Denis, outside Paris, where Abbot Suger rebuilt the chancel between 1140 and 1144. His aim was to create a building full of space and light. In carrying the architecture to a greater height than had ever been attempted before his masons invented the Gothic style. The style is a triumph of medieval engineering which, by elaborate masonry techniques, converts the lateral thrust of arches and vaults into a vertical load.

Three elements are essential to the Gothic style: the pointed arch; the ribbed vault and the flying buttress. The pointed arch is a much more flexible building form than the round-headed arches of the Romanesque period. Because it is pointed, a narrow arch can be placed beside a wide one and both can spring from the same starting point and be carried up to exactly the same height. This permits a Gothic architect to develop plans on complex patterns and to construct the vaults on all sorts of different shapes of plan. They are held up by light ribs which take the place of the heavy barrel vaults of earlier work. Buttresses, a thickening of the wall to give it strength, can now be concentrated exactly where they are required and, by the use of a sloping arch which carries the thrust of a roof or vault away from the wall of the building the buttress becomes a 'flying buttress' leaving space for large windows and lots of light.

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