oon after, I started studying medieval architecture in earnest. If I hadn't been snagged by literature first, I might well have become an art historian. Why? Because the cathedrals and churches were deeply impressive in a variety of ways. A monastery like Mont St. Michel, built on an island in the English Channel, needs no justification from me. It is profoundly beautiful. Within the walls, it has a cloister (as all monasteries do), a covered walk where the monks could walk for exercise or meditation, could wash, could copy manuscripts in good light without being subject to the weather directly. Every cloister is different in its details and its proportions, and--to my mind--every one is beautiful, with its changing light and its garden or cloister "garth."
athedrals also have towers of myriad kinds and sizes and
styles, depending on the region and the period. West Walton, in Norfolk
(in the east of England), has a beautiful late medieval parish church with
a stepped tower that seems more magnificent than a church its size would
warrant, but then we all know about people who show off when they build.
Just look at the Empire State Building--or the big houses in the historic
district of any American town old enough to have one.
At the other
end of the spectrum, Exeter Cathedral has monumental towers from the
Norman period, some two hundred years earlier. Not only are they
beautifully designed, but they have elaborate surface decoration, a
different pattern to each level of the tower, that makes them more than
just "a pile of old stones," as a friend once off-handedly
described (all) cathedrals to me. Other cathedrals are like "cities
of towers"; the effect inspires not admiration for a single piece of work, but
dazzlement at so much in one place.
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