Week 27 – Cathedrals, rise of the medieval towns & Europe’s economics

What was a major innovation of the Gothic cathedral? How did the architecture of the cathedral reflect the prevailing idea of God?

Contrary to Romanesque cathedrals, which had thick walls, because people started using stone instead of wood for their ceilings, Gothic cathedrals started using flying buttresses. This took pressure of the walls and made it possible for the Gothic walls to be thinner with more windows. Gothic cathedrals also had a theological meaning. The geometric coherence had its meaning behind it as well as did the light. Light presented God’s enlightenment and the geometric coherence was due to God’s great mathematical and geometrical skills.

Why was the rise of the medieval towns significant?

There was more and more freedom for the people. They chose their own officials, had representative assemblies and the remnants of barbarian and feudal law gave way to a more rational system. Any serf could also gain full freedom if he managed to run away and hide from his lord without any detection for a year and a day.

The question is, why did lords consent to this? The answer is simple; taxes. The more freedom people had, the more people came into that town and therefore the lords had a larger tax base.

How can we account for western Europe’s sustained economic success?

The economic growth in Europe was caused by decentralization. As mentioned above, with towns came more freedom. People had the right to choose what they want to do with their lives and didn’t have to work for their lords most of the week. They were inspired to work on their businesses, contrast to China, India and the Islamic world, where people were told what to do and everything belonged to their leader.

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