Decorated Gothic architecture (1250-1370)

When Gothic really started looking, well, Gothic

Common Gothic Features

  • Pointed arches. The most significant development of the Gothic era was the discovery that pointed arches could carry far more weight than the rounded ones of the Norman Romanesque.
  • Ribbed vaulting. An extension of pointy arches. Ceilings weren't flat; they rose to a point. The square patch of ceiling between four columns would also arch up to a point in the center, creating four sail shapes, sort of like the underside of a pyramid with bulging faces. This is called a cross-vault. The "X" separating these four sails was often reinforced with ridges called ribbing. As the Gothic progressed, four-sided cross-vaults would become fan vaults (see below), and the spaces between the structural ribbing spanned with lierne ribs and tracery (see below).
  • Flying buttresses (all periods). Free-standing exterior pillars connected by graceful, thin arms of stone that help channel the weight of the building and its roof out and down into the ground. Not every Gothic church has evident buttresses.
  • Lancet windows. Tall, thin pointy windows, often in pairs or multiples all set into a larger, elliptical pointy arch. Tracery would be added inside and between the points in later periods.
  • Plate tracery. The tip of a window, or the inverted concave-triangular shape between the tips of two side-by-side windows, would often be filled with a flat plate of stone pierced by a light (tiny window), which was either simply round or in a trefoil (three round petals, like a clover) or quatrefoil (four petals) motif.
  • Stained glass. The multitude and size of Gothic windows allowed them to be filled with Bible stories and symbolism writ in the colorful patterns of stained glass.
  • Rose windows. Huge circular windows filled with elegant tracery whose "petals" are filled with stained glass, often appearing as the centerpieces of facades
  • Spires. Pinnacles of masonry seeming to defy gravity and reach toward Heaven itself.
  • Gargoyles. Drain spouts disguised as wide-mouthed creatures or human heads.
  • Choir screen. The inner wall of the ambulatory/outer wall of the choir section, often decorated with carvings or tombs.

Features specific to the Decorated Style

  • Tracery. Delicate, lacy spider webs of carved stone curly-cues gracing the pointy end of windows and cross-vaults.
  • Lierne. Purely decorative vault ribbing, sort of like tracery on the ceiling; lierne was more geometrical than the fluid tracery on fan vaulting that would flower during the later Perpendicular era.
  • Ogee arches. An arch with a compound curve, it starts as a regular arch's concave curve for the first half, then nearly flattens out to switch over to a convex curve that rises up to the meeting point.

Best Examples

The façade, nave, and chapter house of York Minster (preserving the most medieval stained glass in Britain) are Decorated, though the chancel is Perpendicular and the transepts survive from Early English.

Exeter Cathedral has an elaborate Decorated façade and fantastic nave vaulting.

The otherwise Norman Ely Cathedral has a Decorated octagon tower over the crossing and a wide, vaulted Lady Chapel.