All public architecture… has significance beyond its mere utility.
Near the middle of the 12th century, a new philosophy in France challenged the Romanesque precedent of self-denial and austerity. Under the banner of Abbot Suger’s lux nova (God is light) dogma and with the cathedral as a sort of political battle cry, the Gothic style became an intellectual and innovative charge. The impetus was religious and national, and vouched for the new found allegiance of church and state; therefore, the marvel and beauty of the facades of these cathedrals advertised the prosperity and ascendancy, the sickle and the scepter, of the city. These large basilica churches built during the 11th-14th centuries present more than functional solutions to township or religious needs. They are symbols in stone.
“Giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you for a share of the allotted portion of the saints in the light; who delivered us out of the authority of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of the Son of His love.”
Your portion as a Christian is “in the light.”
Gothic architecture may have been founded on similar theological notions, but the religious, creative mind of the day, in its attempt to materialize this truth in concrete terms, stripped it of its full import. Beautiful stained glass windows diffracted light into a kaleidoscopic metaphor of God and a whole new genre of religious art flourished. Medieval man’s experience of this ‘lux nova’ was confined to basking in the colorful glow of physical light. The resultant concept was that man could rise to the contemplation of the divine only through the senses- a physical experience of an immaterial abstraction.
The far reaching ripples of this objective or physical experience of God lap upon the shores of modern Christianity.