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In the Middle Ages, the main purpose of the cathedral was religion. Cathedrals were expected to carry out services a day. The medieval people believed that was how they could earn their place in heaven, among other things.
Cathedrals of Amiens
Although religious services were the main purpose, a cathedral had other duties. Crowning, christenings, weddings, and funerals all took place there. People could even be buried inside the cathedral! People also built them to show off to visitors, pilgrims, and high officials.
In the Middle Ages land was divided up into sections, called dioceses. A bishop got one diocese each to use for religious purposes. People gave funds to build cathedrals to lift their sins. Funds would come from many people, even the king sometimes! Bishops were people who lead the church with the pope. Often, shops and houses were torn down to make space, sometimes making people mad at the bishop.
To build a cathedral stone, carvers, carpenters, a master mason, an architect, a master stone cutter, labourers, a stone dresser, a black smith, plumbers, a roofer, mortar makers, a glazier or glass maker, a stained glass craftsman, and sculptors were needed. A master mason was in charge, masons were the main builders. Carpenters and black smiths actually just made the tools. Plumbers didn’t make pipes, back then they put lead on the spires!
Two important building materials were stone and wood. Oak was considered the best wood. Once the foundations were done they did the stonework. They even made life-size models, because there wasn’t modern math.
Building might take hundreds of years, and the offspring of the builders had the same work until the job was done. From sunrise to sunset they worked, so it was longer in the summer. Gargoyles were spouts that carried rain water away from the walls. Sometimes, as a mean joke they were made to look like a bishop or a worker! Stained glass windows, statues, and painting were picture Bibles for those who couldn’t read.
Some parts to a cathedral are very important, others are just extras. The bells in the bell tower of a signalled beginnings of services or served as a clock to tell time. The choir, closest to the altar, was where the clergy stood during services. Buttresses supported the walls under the heavy roof. Clerestories were rows of windows that let extra light inside. The porch provided sheltered for worshippers or the clergy. The roof was made of tiles over planks of wood. A rose window was round, filled with stained glass, and symbolized eternity. Spires were tall, pointed structures covered with shingles and topped with a cross or golden weather vane. The nave was the body of the cathedral. The flying buttresses acted like bridge connecting the buttresses. Arcades were the rows of arches supported by pillars.