Day 111 – Mrs. Flusche’s Super Basic Primer on Church Architecture (Part XIV)

Sunday, July 5, 2020 –

I swear this is going to be the last primer on Church architecture (for now…muahaha!). We have built out the entire building, added some flair here and there, but there is one thing we MUST do…beautify the ceiling. So, today we are going to discuss the Gothic vaulted ceiling.

In order to have a proper discussion about a ribbed vaulted ceiling, we have to cover the basics of vaults. That is, a barrel vault and groin vault. Once we get those out of the way, we can thoroughly amuse ourselves with a ribbed vault and, if we’re feeling particularly fancy, a fan vault.

Barrel Vault: a barrel vault is basically a really long rounded arch. So, you start with your basic arch (#YaBasic!) and put another behind it, then another, and then another. You end up with a hallway-ish structure with a nice, high, rounded ceiling. Right!?

Groin Vault: this one is also easy. You start with one barrel vault. Got it? Now take a second barrel vault and put it perpendicular to the first, making a nice intersection. Note: this is why they are sometimes referred to as “double barrel vaults”…because you have two barrel vaults!

Okay, back to the description. Instead of one long barrel, you have four shorter barrels that come together in an X pattern when viewed from above. They are called “groin” vaults because this refers to the “groin” or edge between the intersecting vaults.

Now we are going to start getting nutty…

Ribbed Vault: a ribbed vault has a relatively thin web set within a framework of ribs, hence the name. What is a “web” you ask? It is the stuff / space between the ribs.

And are there different terms for the different ribs? Why yes there are! The longitudinal rib follows the longitudinal length of the nave (i.e. along the long side, or in this case West to East). The transverse rib follows the transverse length of the nave (i.e. along the short side, or in this case North to South). The diagonal rib runs, you guessed it, diagonal to the other two ribs.

Let’s back up to our barrel. It was rounded, no? Well, now we are going to start with a barrel vault made from a pointed arch because we Gothic architects LOVE our pointed stuff. So, we have our first pointed barrel vault, and now we want to intersect it with a second pointed barrel vault.

Because of our extra pointiness, we have more than just an X at our intersection. Now we have a series of “ribs” crisscrossing everywhere. It is a thing of beauty to behold. AND, as an added bonus, it allows for better transfer of load across the arch and down the columns, so now we can have higher ceilings, thinner walls (i.e. less bulk), smaller buttresses, and so many more giant windows! WOOT!

Fan Vault: this is a super fancified vault sometimes used in Gothic architecture. The ribs are spaced equidistant apart and follow the same curves, which makes it look like a fan. Ta-da!

I **think** we are done with basic Church architecture for now. There is, of course, much more we could talk about and all the wonderful symbolism and reasonings behind Gothic architecture, but I’ve been told this series got a little too technical and should give it up (for now). Anyhoo, what shall we talk about next? Hmm…don’t know yet.

Blood of Christ, which welled up under the scourging, save us!

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