Most Famous Gothic cathedrals in Europe You Have to Visit (2024)

Gothic architecture was a dominant building style in Europe during the high and late middle ages between the 12th and 16th centuries. This style of masonry heavily employs the use of hollow spaces with flying buttresses and rib vaults. Gothic architecture evolved from the Romanesque period, which lasted up to the 11th century. This evolution increased technology which made it easier to build more enormous structures. The gothic style spread across countries like France, Germany, Spain, Italy, and Britain. Gothic architecture stands out in large buildings like castles, cathedrals, and churches. Let us take a look at the fascinating gothic cathedral architectural feats achieved during the period.

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Gothic Cathedrals

1. Abbey of Saint-Denis

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In Paris, the Saint-Denis church is one of the earliest buildings to combine gothic architecture elements into one piece. Saint-Denis, a town in Northcentral France at the edge of the Seine River, used to be famous for being the burial place for kings of France at Abbey Church. From Dagobert I to Luis XVIII, their close relatives and notable subjects, the cathedral acted as a resting place from France's most prominent names. The church had a legendary status right from the start. However, during the French revolution in the late 1700s, tombs were either removed or desecrated but later reassembled in the church. Saint-Denis served as a model for the emerging style in the 12th century.

Under the patronage of abbot Suger, repairs at the basilica of Saint-Denis began. The church has massive buttresses, which is a breakaway from the Romanesque into the gothic style. String courses divide window arcades from the portals, which are the main entrance into the cathedral. The portals dominated the façade, which was a significant feature since that was the place from which rulers would relay essential messages. The portals have incorporated mosaics on their top arch to relay different messages.

The rose window, an iconic symbol of gothic architecture, sits above the central portal within a square frame. Pointed arches concentrate pressure at a point enabling the hooks to go higher. The cathedral has ribbed vaults comprising narrow arched ribs, push load downwards and outwards onto piers or columns. The masons in the cathedral used stone panels to fill up the spaces between the ribs. Flying buttresses increase the stability of the walls.

The features of the saint Denis cathedral from what would be gothic architecture across Europe.

2. Cologne Cathedral

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Cologne Cathedral

The Cologne cathedral is in North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany. The gothic cathedral is one of the most important pilgrimage places in Europe and is a UNESCO world heritage site. The cathedral stands at 515 feet (157 meters) tall, features immense twin towers, and is the largest gothic church in northern Europe. Its construction began in 1248 and by 1880, totaling over 600 years of construction. The building followed the destruction of an older cathedral by fire in 1248, built on the same site as many other Christian churches before it, going back to the 4th century. The gothic cathedral has stood the test of time and seen different uses. It stalled once for centuries, and a crane left standing 184 feet (56 meters) above the ground. During the French revolution in the 1790s, troops in Cologne used the cathedral as a hay barn and a stable. In the 1820s, restoration work began to complete the gothic cathedral. The architects used the original drawings from centuries before.

Upon its completion, the cathedral was the tallest structure in the world. Air raids during world war 1944 badly damaged the gothic cathedral. The cathedral's exterior has its dark look thanks to sulphuric acid's action in the rain on the sandstone used to build it. The two towers found in the gothic cathedral are entirely in German gothic style. The cathedral is 275 feet (84 meters) wide and 474 feet (144.5 meters) long. Cologne has stained glass windows three times more than other gothic cathedrals like the Chartres cathedral. With an area of 108,000 square feet (10,000 square meters) of window surface area, a lot of light gets in, and the cathedral's interior is astounding. Cologne church has a plan in the shape of a Latin cross. Two aisles in the cathedral support one of the highest Gothic vaults ever built. Flying buttresses absorb and channel the outward and downward thrust of the vault.

Apart from the extraordinary architecture and dazzling stained glass windows, the gothic cathedral has essential art pieces. Its high altar, installed in 1322, is made of black marble. A single slab of 4.6 meters covers the top, and white marbles with relief sculptures of Biblical scenes face the sides. The most important piece of art is the "shrine of the three kings," which supposedly contains the three wise men's relics and remains.

3. The Notre Dame De Paris

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The Notre Dame De Paris

Notre Dame's cathedral in Paris, France, is the most famous gothic cathedral in Europe from the middle ages. The cathedral stands on top of the ruins of two churches that came before the gothic masterpiece. The foundation stone was laid down by Pope Alexander III in the 12th century when the construction began. The Notre Dame cathedral consists of square chapels, double aisles, a choir, and a transept. The Notre Dame de Paris gothic cathedral has an area of 130 by 48 meters. The east end of the cathedral has large windows supported by single arch flying buttresses. Two, three stories high, massive gothic towers crown the western façade, with towers 68 meters high. 13th-century glass still on each rose window.

Through the centuries, the cathedral in France has suffered deterioration. Napoleon almost destroyed it when he crowned himself emperor of the French. In 2019, Notre Dame became the latest among the gothic cathedrals to face destruction by fire. The cathedral in France has stood the test of time since its construction, which began in the 12th century under Bishop De Sully's patronage. After his death, the cathedral's construction went on, and in the 12th century, workers finished the west façade and its rose window.

The Notre dame gothic cathedral has made its name in the architectural world by being one of the first buildings in world history to incorporate flying buttresses to support external walls. Some of the statues seen around the gothic cathedral work as support columns. Sculptures in the form of gargoyles function as water sprouts. The rose windows in Notre dame let in light illuminate the gothic cathedral's interior and are considered masterpieces of Christian architecture. A 9.6-meter rose window is on the center of the western façade of the cathedral.

The artwork in the gothic cathedral is astounding. Twenty-eight statues form the Gallery of Kings under balustrade, representing 28 generations of the kings of Judah. The cathedral has a portal with sculptures masterfully depicting the last judgment. The northern rose window in the gothic cathedral has stained glass, which turns it into an architectural masterpiece. The central oculus is Mary and child, surrounded by prophets and kings of the old testament. The Notre Dame is one of the best gothic cathedrals you can visit.

4. Chartres Cathedral

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Chartres Cathedral

Cathedral of Our Lady of Chartres is a Roman Catholic church found in Chartres, France. The gothic cathedral is one of the best-preserved and finest cathedrals in France and the whole of Europe and is a recognized UNESCO world heritage site. The cathedral ranks as one of the chief feats of gothic architecture in France and Amiens Cathedral and Reims cathedral. Chartres cathedral is well known for its stained glass and numerous sculptures.

The cathedral merges Romanesque and gothic architecture as it has parts made of each. The West Portal, also known as the Royal portal, was part of a Romanesque church that fire destroyed in 1194, and the present Gothic cathedral stands on the foundations of the old church in the 13th century. The cathedral has a height of 34 meters and a length of 130 meters. The Chartres cathedral has a vast collection of figure sculptures, whether column size or miniature, depicting the Old Testament.

Some of the most important relics are in the cathedral. The cathedral is strongly associated with the virgin Mary, and many believe that her veil is in the Chartres cathedral treasury. Roman Catholics seek pilgrimage at the cathedral to date. The church contains 176 stained-glass windows depicting the old testament, virgin Mary, and the apocalypse. The cathedral has survived a fire, the French revolution, which saw many gothic cathedrals damaged, and the test of time.

5. Lincoln Cathedral

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Lincoln Cathedral

Many people consider the Lincoln cathedral as one of the treasures of England. The cathedral is sometimes called the cathedral church of the blessed virgin Mary. The construction of the cathedral began in phases in 1072. Like the other cathedrals in Europe around that period, Lincoln's style copies the early gothic style, a revolutionary design at the end of the Romanesque period. A fire destroyed Lincoln's wooden ceiling, and then an earthquake hit years later, which was at the time one of the strongest earthquakes experienced in the UK. After the earthquake, a new bishop to the seat; Hugh de Burgundy. The Bishop would oversee the beginning of the transformation of the cathedral design, and at the start of the project, architects used the early English gothic style on the structures. As architecture advanced, so did the use of appropriate methods at the time, like a pointed arch, flying buttresses, and ribbed vaulting to support the exterior walls of the gothic cathedral. These changes allowed the incorporation of large windows to let in even more light. Two large stained glass rose windows were added to the cathedral building in the middle ages, adding one of the most iconic gothic characteristics to the cathedral. The windows "look" at evil and holiness each, as one faces North and the other, south. In the 14th century, the Gothic cathedral tower rose to a height of 83 meters.

An interesting fact about the Lincoln cathedral is the burial of Eleanor of Castile at the church.

6. Amiens Cathedral

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Amiens Cathedral

Amiens cathedral, also known as Notre-dame d 'Amiens, is a gothic cathedral located in Amiens, France. The cathedral is the largest in size of the churches built in France in the 13th century and is still the largest gothic cathedral in French history. The cathedral has an interior length of 133.5 meters and a nave soaring at the height of 42.3 meters at the vault's apex. Open arcades, flanking aisles, and large windows of the clerestory and triforium let light into the gothic cathedral. Structures on the building's exterior include an enormous rose window above a carved gallery on a double towered west façade. The facades of the building have deeply set portals.

Amiens gothic cathedral replaced a smaller church that burned in the 13th century and took 50 years to build. Gothic cathedrals have a history of going through damage. Amiens cathedral is not an exception. However, the building has stood the test of time and still stands to see the light of day.

Other Notable Gothic Cathedrals in Europe

i) Milan Cathedral

The gothic cathedral is the most impressive structure in Milan and is the current seat of the archbishop of Milan, dedicated to the Nativity of St. Mary. Milan cathedral was built in the 14th century and is the fifth-largest among all the Christian churches in the world. The gothic cathedral has more statues than any other Gothic cathedral in the world. There are 3,400 statues, 700 figures, and 135 gargoyles that decorate the cathedral.

ii) Seville Cathedral

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Seville Cathedral

Known as the cathedral of St. Mary of the see, the gothic cathedral was completed in the early 16th century and was the largest cathedral in the world at that point in history. The royal chapel has the remains of a few prominent people in Seville at that time. Seville Cathedral demonstrates the city's wealth.

iii) Salisbury Cathedral

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Salisbury Cathedral

Formerly the cathedral church of the virgin Mary, Salisbury cathedral is an Anglican church located in England. The cathedral is known for having one of the tallest spires on a gothic church in Britain, and the cathedral is the seat of the Bishop of Salisbury. The church has a clock which is one of the oldest known working clocks in the world. The gothic building celebrated 750 years since its consecration in 2008.

iv) York Minster

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York Minster

Minster is the archbishop of York's seat, the third-highest office in the Church of England. The cathedral has gone through a series of damages, including a fire, some of its treasures looted, demolition, and Queen Elizabeth I's effort to remove all traces of Roman Catholicism from cathedrals. The York Minster remains in use to date.

v) Strasbourg Cathedral

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Strasbourg Cathedral

Also known as the cathedral of our lady of Strasbourg, the church is a catholic cathedral in France. A fascinating fact about the cathedral is that it was the world's tallest building for 227, dating from 1647 to 1874.

How to Know a Building is Gothic

All gothic buildings have a few things in common and can be identified more quickly due to each other's striking resemblance. Let us look at a few examples of features of a gothic cathedral;

  • Rose windows

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Rose windows

  • Large stained glass windows

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Large stained glass windows

  • Pointed arches

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Pointed arches

Ribbed or barrel vaults

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Ribbed or barrel vaults

  • Flying buttresses

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Flying buttresses

  • Ornate decoration

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Ornate decoration

  • Gargoyles

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  • Figures and statues

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Westminster, Abbey, Architecture

Most Famous Gothic cathedrals in Europe You Have to Visit (2024)


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