High Middle Ages: The Search for Synthesis. Outline Chapter 10. Outline Chapter 10 : High Middle Ages: The Search For Synthesis The Significance of Paris The Gothic Style Suger's Building Program for Saint Denis The Mysticism of Light The Many Meanings of the Gothic Cathedral
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Outline Chapter 10: High Middle Ages: The Search For Synthesis
The Significance of Paris
The Gothic Style
Suger's Building Program for Saint Denis
The Mysticism of Light
The Many Meanings of the Gothic Cathedral
Music: The School of Notre Dame
The Rise of the Universities
Francis of Assisi
Dante's Divine Comedy
The High Middle Ages saw the growth of a number of institutions that
stood in sharp contrast to those of the Carolingian period. Foremost
was the rise of the city. Urbanization brought with it a lessening of the
importance of monastic life as a cultural center and the emergence of
the influence of the bishop and the cathedral school. The increased
need for a "knowledge class" triggered an expansion in education that
would eventually lead to the university of scholars. Urbanization also
warred against the old feudal values; it fostered trade and commerce;
it made possible the growth of what today we would call a
"middle class" who stood on the social ladder between the rural
peasant/city worker and the landed royalty or hereditary aristocracy.
The twelfth and thirteenth centuries were times of intense intellectual
ferment and advance. New sources of knowledge came through
Arabic sources either as original contributions
(e.g., in medicine and science) or in the form of lost works of the
classical past (e.g., the writings of Aristotle) to fuel the work of scholars.
Advances in technology as "spinoffs" from the ambitious plans of
both Romanesque and Gothic architects had their impact.
The increase of a money economy aided the growth of artistic and
One conspicuous characteristic of medieval culture was its belief
that everything knowable could be expressed in a manageable and
rational whole. Whether it appeared in stone (Chartres) or technical
prose (Thomas Aquinas) or in poetry (Dante), the medieval mind saw
hierarchy, order, intelligibility, and, above all, God in all of observable
creation. This hierarchy expressed itself in its emphasis on advancing
steps of understanding. The sculptural program of Chartres, for
example, is a revelation of the Old Testament figures who point us to
their proper fulfillment in the New. In the theology of Aquinas we move
from the plane of natural reason to a fuller truth taught by revelation.
In Dante we progress from an awareness of our sinful nature to an
intuition into the nature of God. In all of these cases the emphasis is
on harmony and gradation and a final purpose of all knowledge,
which is to become aware of God. In that sense, at least, much of
medieval culture could be said to be oriented in an otherworldly manner.
Portrait of Suger, Abbot of Saint-Denis Infancy Window,
Annunciation Panel, c 1140
View of the choir and north transept at St. Denis.
This diagram shows the main sections of a Gothic cathedral.
Berlinghieri, St. Francis Altarpiece (c. 1235)Tempera on wood, Church of San Francesco, Pescia.
Triumph of St. Thomas Aquinas and the Allegory of the Sciences -- Sacred and Secular
Left Wall, Spanish Chapel, Santa Maria Novella, Florence, Italy
Fresco painted by Andrea di Bonaiuta
Hell - a terrifying representation of Hell that certainly inspired Dante when he
wrote his Divine Comedy. Florence Cathedral, mosaic