Gothic Processional Structure

From the twelfth century through the fifteenth century the Gothic style, with its monumental space, brilliant light, and plastic structure, dominated the architecture of western Europe. "It was in the service of the church that the Gothic style attained its most meaningful expression," says Robert Branner, the author of Gothic Architecture, "for the church was the most prolific builder of the Middle Ages, providing the widest scope for the development of architectural ideas and calling for the best talents (13)."

By this time, not only had the church acquired great wealth but it had attracted brilliant members of the clergy who sought to construct magnificent monuments to the glory of a God of perfect geometry. In the ancient world, the study of numbers, expressed through geometry, was considered a means of understanding the ideal order of the universe. Geometry was inherited by the Christian church and widely used in church planning. Based on the pure form of circles, triangles, and squares, the dimensions and proportions of the building had symbolic significance.

With the Gothic design a distinction developed between the laity in the nave and the intellectual religious community, arrayed in the choir behind the altar. After the altar had been pushed to the far end of the choir, replacing the seat of the bishop, a low wall was interposed to cut the choir off, thus separating clergy and congregation. The Gothic style, easily recognized by its pointed arches, was in a continual evolution. The rebuilt St. Denis, outside Paris, was one of the first churches to reflect this style. However, the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris, begun only twenty years later, in 1155, was quite different. Perhaps Notre Dame is more representative of the early Gothic style because here height mattered as much as light and color. The problem facing the masons was how to support the high vaults. The solution--to adapt the earlier Romanesque idea of using galleries above the side aisles as the basis of support--initially resulted in a four-story interior elevation. This alternative arrangement enjoyed a considerable vogue in northern France during the second half of the twelfth century (see Fig. 6) (14).

Figure 6: Cathedral of Notre Dame, Paris, France.

Two significant developments in the evolution of the Gothic style occurred at the end of the twelfth century, when galleries were dispensed with and the overall size of cathedrals was vastly increased. This enlargement was made possible by the imaginative use of flying buttresses. These provided the same kind of structural support as the more traditional galleries but did away with the need for heavy walls. The disappearance of the gallery and the introduction of flying buttresses made it feasible to enlarge the clerestory windows considerably, thus admitting even more light to the church interiors (15).

It was at Chartres that the first truly monumental clerestory appeared. Chartres paved the way for the soaring heights achieved at Amiens, which has been described as "a glass casket mounted on a lofty spacious hall" (see Fig. 7) (16). Only on rare and special occasions were the great French prototypes ever equalled in other countries--in Cologne, Germany, for example, in Milan, Italy, and in Barcelona and Seville in Spain (17). Though there are traces of the Gothic style evident in early America, Gothic did not become popular in the United States until the nineteenth century. From 1820 until 1930, the Gothic Revival underwent three transitions: Early Gothic Revival (1820-1860), High Victorian Gothic (1860-1890), and Late Gothic Revival (1890-1930). Gothic structures generally include pointed arches, pinnacles, battlements, and window tracery. In the Early Gothic period, the use of one or two of these elements would indicate that the architect was attempting to create a Gothic image. The common church form was a simple basilica with a steeple placed toward the entrance or in the center (18). During the High Victorian Gothic Revival, buildings were heavier than they were in the earlier period and different colored building materials were used (19). Late Gothic Revival structures were characterized by a "smoother" design and were often constructed in masonry--usually stone, if available. The detail was far more varied than that of the Early Gothic Revival period, when only one pattern of tracery was used for the entire structure (20).

Figure 7: Cathedral, Amiens, France.

Richard Upjohn popularized the "ethical" or "ecclesiastical" Gothic in the United States. These terms originated in the English Gothic revival movement that was promoted by the Cambridge Camden Society and the Oxford Architec- tural Society. Though philosophically opposed, these groups drew their energy from the same source: distaste for the immediate past and its influence on the present. Upjohn's design for Trinity Church in New York (finished in 1846) was essentially a modified version of an "ideal" English church shown in Pugin's True PrincipIes of Pointed or Christian Architecture of 1841 (see Fig. 8) (21). America was soon deluged with churches based on the Trinity model.

It happens that the oldest Gothic church in Cleveland, St. John's Episcopal Church (1836-1838), designed by Hezekiah Eldridge, predates Upjohn's church by a dozen years. St. John's is a good example of the use of Gothic detail pop- ular during the Early Gothic Revival period. Eldridge was probably familiar with John Henry Hopkins' An Essay on Gothic Architecture, the first book on Gothic ecclesiastical architecture to be published in the United States. St. John's is a good representative of a small group of American churches inspired by Hopkins' book. This "Gothicized meeting house" has been rebuilt twice. The present plan, with neither a central aisle nor an apse, is therefore similar to the original plan (see Fig. 9) (22). At one time the church was more elaborate than it is today. Figure 9, for example, shows pinnacles that no longer exist.

Figure 8: Trinity Church, New York, New York.

The High Victorian Gothic style was popular between 1860 and 1890. Cleveland was growing rapidly during this period, so it is not surprising that the city contains many landmarks built in this style. On the west side, St. Stephen's Church (1873), designed by Cudell and Richardson, is more sophisticated than St. John's Episcopal in that its design consists of a cruciform plan with vaulted side aisles. This structure achieves some of the spatial play of true Gothic. The two arcades of thin iron columns dividing the nave terminate at the crossing; they reappear to divide the side shrines from the main altar and give depth to the western end (23). The use of iron columns and wood through out the interior demonstrates the creativity of designers and craftspeople in adapting new materials to what were traditionally stone structures (see Fig. 10).

Figure 9: St. John's Episcopal Church, Cleveland, Ohio.

A second example of High Victorian Gothic is St. Michael's Roman Catholic Church (1889-1982). Designed by Adolf Druieding in the German Gothic style, this church was built of buff-colored rough stone, now blackened with age. Three rows of columns in the interior divide the nave and support an arcade. Groined arches on corbel-supported colonnettes form the ceiling (24). The three central entry doors, the large rose window set in a Gothic frame, and the tall dissimilar towers make this church a distinctive landmark on Cleveland's west side skyline (see Fig. 11). On the east side, St. Joseph's Franciscan Church (1871), St, Stanislaus (1886), Our Lady of Lourdes (1891), and Holy Name (1881) are of the same general period and style.

Figure 10: St. Stephen's Roman Catholic, Cleveland, Ohio.

The Gothic churches in central Cleveland reflect the late Gothic Revival period (1890-1930). Trinity Episcopal Cathedral (1901) and First Methodist Church (1903), for example, fit into this latter category. Further out on Euclid Avenue at University Circle, other late Gothic Revival churches include Church of the Covenant (1909), Amasa Stone Chapel (1911), and Epworth-Euclid United Methodist Church (1926). Two of these churches, Covenant and Epworth, were designed by an architectural firm that was largely responsible for the flowering of the late Gothic movement in America. This firm had various names, such as Cram and Wentworth; Cram, Wentworth, and Goodhue; Cram, Goodhue, and Ferguson; and Cram and Ferguson (25). Determined to revive the Gothic architecture of England, the firm intended to develop it further as the most appropriate architecture for American churches. Its members tried to discern the principles of medieval architecture and then apply their interpretation to contemporary needs (26).

Figure 11: St. Michael's Roman Catholic, Cleveland, Ohio.

The Church of the Covenant (1909) is based on the early English parish church (see Fig. 12). Despite the massiveness of the structure, the building has a simple design. Its nave is wide and has no arcades on the sides. Its transepts are shallow, while the galleries are deep. Hammerbeam trusses that end in carvings support the roof (27).

Epworth-Euclid United Methodist Church, designed by a partner in the same firm, Bertram Goodhue, was inspired by the French medieval church on Mont St. Michel. However, the church also contains English influences and traces of Art Deco. Goodhue died before the church was built and the structure was completed by the Cleveland firm of Walker and Weeks. The Epworth-Euclid Church also marked the end of an era: it was the last great Gothic church built in the city (see Fig. 13).

Figure 12: Church of the Covenant, Cleveland, Ohio.

One might expect that Protestant churches would be centrally focused rather than processional, since traditionally, Protestants had espoused a form of worship in which the word took precedence over the sacrament and the congregation predominated over the liturgical leadership. Yet ironically, many of the largest processional Gothic churches of late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century America were built not for Catholics but for Protestants. The circular form would have been more appropriate for a preaching church, but Protestants liked the form of the Gothic.

Figure 13: Epworth-Euclid United Methodist, Cleveland, Ohio.

© Copyright 1998, Cleveland Sacred Landmarks 1830-1930: A Pilgrimage