How did gothic architecture increase the power of the Catholic church?

Oct 2007
Economically. Cathedrals were places for pilgrims, like tourists, to visit and donate money to, which then furthered the church.


Historum Emeritas
Jan 2007
Well, the architecture of a Gothic cathedral was only one aspect of the whole Gothic cathedral "experience." There was also statuary, tapestry, music, illuminated manuscripts, stained glass, and whatever all else they had. That's not to mention any monasteries or schools that may have been associated with it.

A cathedral would have dominated the entire town - given it it's identity, as it were. It would have been the first thing a traveller saw approaching the town, and the only thing he saw for a good while after that. But any sort of "increase" in the "power of the Catholic Church" would have been more of a re-inforcement of the idea that the Church was "the only game in town" - which it was anyway, for a long time.


Forum Staff
Aug 2006
That's not to mention any monasteries or schools that may have been associated with it.
I think this is the key to the question. Cathedrals were considered the centers for learning for much of the medieval period. What learning that was taking place was most likely coming from the "Christian" point of view. Since Christian "learning" was the only game in town, I would think that the Church would grow immensely powerful.
Jan 2008
Feel free to disagree with me. I believe that Gothic Cathedrals, being the imposing building they are, kept the locals in constant awe of the power of the Church. The mere size and style of the Cathedrals, with all its spirals and towers, would remind the peasants how powerful the Church was and how insignificant they were.


Ad Honorem
Jul 2007
They dominated the skyline of every town, which is the sure sign of who holds the power. In the towns and cities, you have a nice progression through human history; from the monumental architecture of pyramids and ziggurats in ancient times, to the forum and baths, to the motte castle, to the spires of the cathedral, to Neoclassical town halls, post offices and other public buildings, and finally, to the corporate skyscraper.
Feb 2008
Great answers from everyone, and I will add one thought: not only did the cathedrals increase the power, wealth, and influence of the church, they could only be built because the church already had these things in abundance. The immense amounts of money, materials and labor required to build the cathedrals meant that only a powerful, wealthy organization could build them.

Black Dog

Ad Honorem
Mar 2008
Damned England
Different monastic orders took different view on this. The Benedictine order (and the reformed Cluniacs) believed that show and grandeur were to the glory of God, and that the church should be rich to reflect God's glory. The Gothic style was, of course, a revolution. Romanesque, whilst grand, was squat and heavy by comparison: Gothic literally reached for the skies, and long windows allowed more light into the church, (all the better to show off the grandeur inside: here in England, we're pretty much used to dull white walls in church: in the middle ages, it would have been a blaze of colour). The invention of flying buttresses allowed even more light in, thus also showing off the stained glass, whilst giving the whole building a feeling of lightness, of reaching to heaven. A medieval church was designed to awe- and feelings of religious awe tend to cause introspection, which may lead to good behaviour- and donations.

However, the Cistercian order believed that a Church or Abbey should be relatively plain, isolated and the best way to praise God was to work. But anyone who has ever seen Fountain's abbey would seriously doubt the "plain" bit, although the abbey was built largely by Benedictine "converts" from Ripon, North Yorkshire, England.

The Franciscans, of course, hardly even built churches, and when they did, they were simple buildings. They believed that the church should emulate Christ and be poor.

Personally, I believe that whilst grand Gothic churched impoverished and enriched the church at the same time (Gothic cost a lot to build, but also brought in money), nevertheless, the builder's main motive really was a monument to God's glory. However, it is plain that church "technology" should eventually find its way into wider society, and ultimately, such art was no longer the preserve of the Church. This, surely, helped weaken the church's mystique and hence it's power.
May 2008
The construction of Gothic cathedrals in particular also helped the church keep the productive assets of society organized around its interests. The cooperation of so many trades and skilled workers (all guild members) kept the builders of the church at the top of the social ladder. The upper class funded the construction, the (growing) middle class actually built the cathedrals, and the peasant class was presented with a constant reminder of the glory of the church. All levels of the increasingly complex society were united around one goal.

I believe that by the Gothic period, the "pilgrimage" era of Catholicism was coming to a close. The huge Romanesque churches of previous generations, and the mysterious relics they contained, had been the object of pilgrims in Europe before.