The Normans’ attempt to foist their language on their subjects would eventually result in the mongrelism of Middle English (which explains modern English’s glut of synonyms). Similarly, the gothic architecture synthesised in the Ile de France (primarily Saint Denis) 60 years after the invasion, flourished only briefly in England before its “purity” was contaminated by local influence.

The rapidity of the gothic’s mutations are testimony to the energy and ingenuity of its makers. The notion of the dark ages’ barbarism is quashed by the sheer invention and disparity of its great cathedrals: Salisbury’s chapter house and spire, Exeter’s and Wells’s west front, Gloucester’s cloisters, the mighty bulks of Ely and Lincoln. But perhaps that notion of barbarism is equally reinforced by these monuments to the vast and corrupt power of the unreformed church. The gothic may be a gamut of disparate architectural styles, but what ties it together is its sacred purpose.

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The majority of gothic buildings that have survived were built to the glory of God. The homes of the church’s flock, on the other hand, were built of less staunch materials than limestone, flint and brick: they often literally dissolved. Grander dwellings, while better made, were still constructed according to regional precedent and resource; the first great era of unfortified, style-conscious domestic architecture occurred in the wake of the dissolution of the monasteries, by when the taste for the gothic had passed.


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