Thursday, July 26, 2007

Architecture Moment: Sherborne Abbey, Dorset

As dedicated readers of this blog know, my main architectural interest is in late Gothic architecture in Germany, Eastern Europe, Spain and Portugal. These were the areas where late Gothic architecture was most innovative technologically and artistically. England, on the other hand, was a different story. Because the Wars of the Roses lasted until 1485, comparatively less building was done in England for the bulk of the 15th century. After the wars ended, pent-up demand meant that most of the churches of England received at least some refurbishment in the period between 1485 and 1534. However, England was less urbanized than many other regions of Europe and it’s towns were both small and had extremely limited political power. In addition, the Wars of the Roses destroyed the old nobility, so the nobility of the period only funded a handful of projects. Therefore, most of the more elaborate buildings in this period were a limited number of royally-funded projects – the Lady Chapel at Westminster Abbey (1503-1509), Eton College Chapel, King’s College Chapel at Cambridge and St. George’s Chapel in the royal castle at Windsor.

Sherborne Abbey was the project of one of it’s last Abbots, Abbot Ramsam (abbot 1475-1504). The old abbey had been partially burnt down by the townspeople, necessitating rebuilding by the wealthy abbey. Although this was not a royally-funded project (the townspeople were heavily fined) , many of the local nobility and gentry participated in the rebuilding.

English architecture of the period revolved around the fan vault, though Continental innovations in vaulting were known and occasionally utilized. Sherborne has several different fan-vault schemes, and it’s brightly painted choir vaults, resting on unbroken thin vault shafts that rise from the floor, is one of the most beautiful in England.


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