creation of gothic architecture

an exploration

Explore with me. Keep up to date.

John james

John James

When I was a boy my father would take me to the lovely little churches in the Sussex countryside. My passion for things medieval began there, with him.
After becoming an architect I was still haunted by this question: “How did a militaristic, authoritarian society create the most dazzling ethereal architecture of all times?”
To find the answers I examined one great building until I knew the geometry behind nearly every stone and which team placed them, and then spent three years searching for where the masters of Chartres could have worked. This formed the first inventory of Early Gothic churches in the Paris area, all 1600 of them that you can see here.
But when were they built? No one knew. In visiting the same buildings many times I realised that the capitals offered the missing clue. So I photographed them all, and they too are now here for you to see.
Ultimately, I wish to answer the question so we may glimpse, no matter how tantalisingly and uncertainly, what and who created these inspired buildings? On my own, probably not, but with your help, who knows?

My Intention

is to create a chronology for the 700 key Early Gothic churches in the Paris Basin before 1240
and to identify some real architects and sculptors as the basis for a history of the
CREATION OF THE GOTHIC STYLE through the people who made it possible.
The web has offered the only way to present this enormous mass of material,
that will at the same time allow you to explore as you wish.

Basis for dating

Very few churches are dated, and then only parts - in particular, Chartres, Paris, Sens, Saint-Denis, Senlis etc. This holistic approach uses the development across the whole collection to order the parts, especially including the carved capitals, to create a consistent and comprehensive chronology.

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Dating after 1180

In the first volume of The Ark of God I dated all the buildings after 1170 through the evolution of foliage from early spring to high summer.

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Dating ante 1170

Mainly through connections between carvers-cum-templates and their travels, set within the stylistic boundaries formed by the crusades.

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Dating by the year

Used primarily to sort the image displays; but it also places a gallery after an aisle with the in-between campaigns estimated, and orders a carver’s development.

Features and analytics


This is an explorer’s dream.

For the first time all this data can be compared and analysed. Features, such as flying buttresses, are linked to phases and their dates, evolution can be filtered by decade, affiliation and region, and then assessed against the spending in the region.Data may be displayed on maps, as charts or lists with images (as above). It aims to show what scaffolding-enshrouded France looked like in any decade, and what a craftsman could have visited at any time, and thus glimpse the ideas (and people?) they could have met ovn their travels.

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Maps and regions

The symbols on the maps show the relative size or historic relevance of a building, and their colours group the churches into regions by the work-flow, politics and funding. All are linked to the pages.

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The primary sources are those few that unambiguously refer to specific and recognisable construction phases for this area and period. The translations are by Chris Henige.

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Consists mainly of notes made on cards on-site between 1969 and 1989, to record the profiles and major elements. I had hoped to identifyl the master masons through their profiles, but so far without success.

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We need a simple way to locate elements that also shows where they are without having to refer to other plans or drawings. Direction (or arm) is followed by the side, by the bay, and then by the level in brackets.

Yet to be included

With time and luck the following should be completed by the end of the year.
Many of the photos of capitals in The Ark are waiting to be scanned and uploaded. The more
individualistic designs from the 1140s to 1170s are yet to be improved and uploaded, with
attempts to identify the carving groups, and/or the actual carvers.
In addition, I have reams of photos to be included, some detailed descriptions of buildings made over
the years, and so on. Also a large archive on the carved portals with an analysis of how they relate to
each other in the light of the dates suggested here.
There will be dynamic pages to enliven the research potential of the Analytic section, with filtering by
place, time and element, diocese and affiliation. At the moment the resulting pages are static, but there
are new techniques available for making the result more lively and exciting.
It would be valuable to plot the travels of a number of individuals and concepts, and
highlight where they met other carvers and potentially learned from each other. All this can be done.


The bulk of the material on these buildings, the synopses, the dates and the capitals,
has been collected by me over the past fifty years.
The original software for this site was created by Chris Henige, to which he added panoramas,
models, and translated the latin texts that was part of the earlier on-site research.
Over the years our discussions enormously enriched our joint project.
Towards the end of 2017 we decided we were pursuing different aims and he has continued to
display his wonderful material through while I have further developed
the more interactive and speculative aspects in the
The success of this site and the vision I have for a history written more from the perspective of the
creators than from the uncertainty of style, will depend on the extent to which my readers
will share their passion, and interact with me on this abundant material.
For this I may develop a blog page to make connection easier.