The Gothic church can be seen to span the centuries between 1000 and the late 1300s. But, a closer look at these church structures shows a regional variation, with English and French examples offering parallels that are quite insightful. It is thought that the Gothic style maintains its origin in France around 1140 AD before spreading to the other parts of Europe. The English architects were fascinated by the style and adopted it for their churches but made some changes. The English and French Gothic church differ substantially in the spatial emphasis, which used architectural features (Stokstad & Cothren, 2012). Moreover, the church in the two regions differed in the use of buttressing, as well as the treatment of the façade and the east end.
Further, the English and French Gothic church differ significantly, especially in the almost oppositional emphases on horizontality and verticality shown by length and height of the church features. The French penchant for height, for instance, can be seen in the Notre-Dame Cathedral. The French nave vaults are 115 feet and above with the Beauvais Cathedral being the tallest at 160 feet. The French also used vault shafts on their Gothic church to emphasize the height as seen in the Beauvais. In contrast to the French, the English Gothic church emphasized much on length (Nolan, 2015). For instance, Salisbury is 473 feet long, with much of the length gained in the nave. When comparing Salisbury to Amiens, proportion comes to play with Amiens being over 50 feet higher and 10 feet wider than Salisbury.
Further, the French and English Gothic church differs in location. The Gothic church in England was built in grassy, treed areas while in France it was located at the center of the cities. The French Gothic church was designed with flying buttresses, groined vaults and pointed arches. This gave it a unified and compact plan with the nave being divided into oblong bays and clustered ribs built to support and shift the weight to pointed piers and arches. Stokstad and Cothren (2012) assert that sculpture was used to decorate the deep porches on the façade and twin towers were constructed proportionally to the façade’s width. The support system is apparent on the outside thereby creating massive masonry around the structure.
The English Gothic church, on the other hand, has a design that creates an illusion that the structures stood in visible support system. They did not use the flying buttresses as used in the French Gothic church. The architecture in English Gothic church is delicate, refined, light, and features unobtrusive details. For instance, the Trinity Chapel is designed with intricately thin Purbeck shafts, which support the very little weight as they appear to effortlessly support the stone vaults (Stokstad & Cothren, 2012). Further, the English design is characterized by buttresses at the aisles’ outer walls, decorative triforium opening to the aisles’ roofs, outer masonry wall, triple lancet windows, and quadrant arches under the roofs adjoining the triforium walls.
The French Gothic design was stretched to fit a much taller clerestory and main arcade. Its triforium differs from the English in that it has a passage between the wall of solid masonry and the ornamental arcade. The area beneath the aisle roofs is less visible than in the English design. The flying arcades are made in two levels with the upper one connecting the clerestory wall and the wooden roof while the lower arch counteracts vaults’ outward thrust (Nolan, 2015). It is thus apparent that the English architects never wanted to copy the French design, therefore, chose to make a different design of the Gothic church.