Western Civilization I, Week 27 – Gothic Cathedrals, Medieval Towns, and Western Europe’s Economic Success

(1) What was a major innovation of the Gothic cathedral?

One major innovation discovered by Gothic architects was that pointed arches were way better than normal arches. Pointed arches could support the roof better because they essentially held themselves up from the pressure of having two straight points pushing hard against each other. Because of this discovery, walls could be made thinner, conserving building materials and making it cheaper for extremely large and tall cathedrals to be built. On top of that, churches were now able to put stained glass windows in their buildings because the weight of the ceiling would not be put directly on the fragile glass.

(2) Why was the rise of the medieval towns significant?

The spike in towns during the medieval times led to some better living arrangements for the lower classes. Living conditions in towns were not amazing, and not nearly as clean as they are today—people would often dump sewage and their garbage into the streets, and pigs were often used to clean it up. Rats ran rampant, and nighttime was a “go out at your own risk” situation. There was a curfew, but no local lawmen to enforce it, so the streets were full of less law-abiding people. However, this rise in places to call home was good for the serfs of feudal estates. Serfs who did not like their lord’s treatment of them could leave and go to a nearby town. This prompted feudal lords to improve living conditions and treatment of their serfs, so that they would not be tempted to leave. Score for the working class.

(3) How can we account for western Europe’s sustained economic success?

Western Europe is credited for most of the world’s advancements in science, mathematics, industry, and technology. Major advancements in economics, philosophy, ethics, religion, and other thought concepts as such led to the West finding better ways to live in harmony and improve their interactions with other humans—even if there were many wars about things like religion. Countries like England, Greece, Italy—particularly Rome—and Germany made leaps and bounds in the realms of medicine, chemistry, physics, and just engineering in general. This allowed what is today called the West to be a dominant force for so long in history. The West was advanced in medicine, warfare technology, and more productive economies for a long while before the rest of the world was able to catch up. To this day, the West is more technology advanced than most other countries and nations.


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