If Romanesque architecture demonstrated the protective strength of God in uncertain times, Gothic architecture reached for the sky and celebrated the magnificence of God’s universe. Using an assortment of creative features, the Gothic style replaced the dim and narrow Romanesque naves with brighter, more spacious interiors filled with light that poured through the huge Gothic windows. The style prospered in Europe during the Middle Ages between the 12th and the 16th centuries and was most prevalent in great cathedrals, abbeys, and churches around Europe. It was also seen in the style of castles, palaces, town halls, and universities. Common traits of this style include the use of pointed arches, flying buttresses, ribbed vaults, and stained-glass windows. Here we take a tour of the 15 most spectacular and impressive Gothic structures found across the world.
1. St Stephen’s Cathedral – Vienna, Austria
The Roman Catholic church, St. Stephen’s Cathedral, is a widely recognized building in Vienna. The structure was ravaged by a large fire and was survived by its stone foundations; since then, a large section has been rebuilt. The highlight of the Cathedral is its towers, which are the tallest (named ‘Steffl’), standing at 136 m and has become an iconic part of Vienna’s skyline.
2. Basilica of St. Denis – France
The Basilica of St. Denis is an architectural landmark, the first major structure designed and built in Gothic style (completed in 1144), which heralded the change from Romanesque architecture to Gothic architecture. The interior of the cathedral displays the intricate Gothic style, with a combination of elaborate stained-glass windows and statues and figures adorning the church.
3. Westminster Abbey – London
The Collegiate Church of St. Peter, popularly known as Westminster Abbey, is a Gothic cathedral in Britain that hosted royal weddings, coronation ceremonies, and a place of public worship for hundreds of years. The Abbey is an expansive, Gothic design embedded with centuries of British history and tradition. In 1987, it was classified as a UNESCO World Heritage site.
4. Amiens Cathedral – France
Amiens Cathedral crowns the northern French city of Amiens, with its spire climbing nearly 400 feet into the air, and is still one of the tallest structures in the city. It is also the largest of the three great Gothic cathedrals built in France during the 13th century. Designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1981, the structure stands as an irreplaceable example of the many dynamic forces at work in Gothic architecture.
5. Notre-Dame de Reims – France
The Cathedral was constructed during the 13th century on the site of an old church dating from the year 400. The Kings of France were crowned in this cathedral which is one of the three major examples of ‘High Gothic’ architecture of the 13th century.
6. Strasbourg Cathedral – France
Considered to be one of the finest examples of Late Gothic architecture, the Cathedral is famous for its pink colour that comes from the particular type of Vosges sandstone used in its construction. The interiors experience colourful hues caused by sunlight pouring through its huge stained-glass windows.
7. Notre-Dame de Paris – France
Notre Dame was among the earliest buildings in the world to use the arched exterior supports, known as the flying buttress. The treasury of the cathedral is noted for numerous sacred relics, including Christ’s Crown of Thorns and a fragment of the True cross.
8. Chartres Cathedral – France
Considered to be the greatest and best-preserved example of Gothic architecture in France, the cathedral is famous for its glorious stained-glass art and rich array of gothic sculptures. The center portal of the cathedral illustrates the ‘End of Time’ as laid out in the Book of Revelation.
9. Santa Maria del Fiore – Italy
Designed by Arnolfo di Cambio, the Cathedral of Florence is dedicated to ‘Santa Maria del Fiore’. The real significance of Florence’s cathedral lies in its dome which is inspired by Renaissance thinking. It remains one of Italy’s largest churches and the dome is still the largest brick dome ever made.
10. Orvieto Cathedral – Umbria, Italy
Situated in the town of Umbria, Orvieto Cathedral is a large 14th-century Catholic cathedral. The construction process took almost three centuries with the design evolving from Romanesque to Gothic as construction progressed. The highlight of the cathedral is the golden frontage, decorated by bas-reliefs and statues.
11. Lincoln Cathedral – Lincoln, United Kingdom
Lincoln Cathedral was the tallest building in the world for 28 years (1311-1549) before it lost its title in 1549 when the central spire collapsed and was never rebuilt. It is considered a spectacle in Gothic architecture due to the showcase of decorative art both inside and outside of the building.
12. Leuven Town Hall – Belgium
Built between 1448 and 1469, the town hall is a landmark building in Leuven’s main market square. It is well-known for its ornate architecture that is crafted in lace-like detail. The building is styled in Barbantine late gothic and competes with the elaborate designs of French Gothic Architecture, found in the low countries like Belgium and the Netherlands.
13. Storkyrkan – Sweden
Storkyrkan is the oldest church in Gamla Stan, in central Stockholm, Sweden. It is an important example of Swedish Brick Gothic, a Gothic architecture style more common in northern Europe that lacks natural stone resources. Unlike the typical Gothic style, brick Gothic is characterized by a lack of figures and sculptural decoration.
14. Reformed Church – Nyirbator, Hungary
The Reformed Church is one of the most beautiful international Gothic structures in Hungary. The monastery church was built around 1480 by Franciscan monks in a late Gothic style with its altars and pulpit carved beautifully in Baroque work.
15. Milan Cathedral – Italy
The Milan Cathedral incorporates both Renaissance and Gothic architectural styles and is the largest Gothic cathedral in the world. The cathedral’s gothic roofline is popular for its dense grids of pinnacles and spires supported by flying buttresses.