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Okay, angry owls it is
August 17, 2014 3:59 AM   Subscribe

One of the great things about medieval art and architecture is that people just went in and did things. They didn’t build models and scale them up. Building great cathedrals and abbeys was a learning process as much as anything else. This means many of these apparently perfect aspirations to the Heavenly Jerusalem have some often quite comical mistakes, corrections and bodge-jobs that once you see, you can’t unnotice. Great Mistakes in English Medieval Architecture.
posted by verstegan (44 comments total) 64 users marked this as a favorite

 
I am obviously not an architect, and it took me a while to figure out what was the problem with some of those, but I still don't know what he's on about with the diapers.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 4:13 AM on August 17 [6 favorites]


If you look at the patterned stones above the right hand arch you'll noticed they don't match up near the top.
posted by Thing at 4:20 AM on August 17 [1 favorite]


And you thought your mistake had long lasting consequences...
posted by andorphin at 4:29 AM on August 17 [1 favorite]


Some guy has used a different sized diaper to everyone else on the presbytery spandrels

I want to laugh, but this person is not speaking English.
posted by Gordafarin at 4:31 AM on August 17 [3 favorites]


If you look at the patterned stones above the right hand arch you'll noticed they don't match up near the top.

Seems like not ripping it up to replace it was a good call: I keep staring at the photo even after this explanation, and I still can't figure out what is wrong.
posted by Dr Dracator at 4:37 AM on August 17 [6 favorites]


Although you probably won't find glaring mistakes like this in modern construction (primarily because building techniques are so different), "compromises" are made almost constantly. Plan measurements turn out to be wrong, a previous trade did something wrong, etc. It happens so often that a set of plans called "as-built" drawings are released after completion to record the changes.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 4:40 AM on August 17 [8 favorites]


If by "angry owl" he means the scissor arches at Wells, well, I'm going to take issue with that. The scissor arches at Wells are quite remarkable and, even though they were not original to the plans, they were added in a harmonious way. Very different from the lopsided arches and misaligned vaults in the rest of the article.
posted by devinemissk at 4:58 AM on August 17 [4 favorites]


This would be a great exercise for kids (and many adults) who get bored with cathedral tours: find the flaws.
posted by fungible at 5:10 AM on August 17


I love reading about old architecture, particularly cathedrals. Everything has a cool name. Everything now is just "wall", "another wall", "yet another wall". Maybe a bit of moulding if you're a fancy schmancy type. No diapering the pesbytery spandrels in our transepts.
posted by Justinian at 5:14 AM on August 17 [17 favorites]


I always have a problem with visual things (I'm terrible at remembering faces, etc). This confirms it. I'd say a good half of those I can't for the life of me see what the problem is.
posted by Decani at 6:07 AM on August 17 [2 favorites]


If you look at the patterned stones above the right hand arch you'll noticed they don't match up near the top.

Scandalous! Please send for the constabulary, and we shall get to the bottom of this at once.
posted by Mayor Curley at 6:19 AM on August 17 [4 favorites]


This is one case where you should definitely read the comments at the link! He explains the use of "diaper":
Diaper just means covering (so I always think the Americanism is better than our silly “nappy”). It’s the square ornament with a flower in the middle that covers the arches. If you look closely you can just about see the design changes slightly and the grid of squares doesn’t line up.
...and gives some further explanations on his original commentary.
posted by flex at 6:33 AM on August 17 [3 favorites]


Wandering around France I'm alarmed at how many cathedrals aren't square along the main axis. Often the transept isn't parallel to the back wall, or the choir is a bit crooked. I image this was trying to expand in the 15th century on top of the existing site, but with reconciling the street plan vs. the original church and/or an eastern alignment. But I like to think the 7° error is somehow mystically significant.
posted by Nelson at 7:36 AM on August 17


Years ago, when visiting Monticello, we realized that Thomas Jefferson had absolutely no business trying to build anything beyond a simple box, and he'd even probably screw that up. My favorite was the clock with a pendulum that also counted days of the week, but he had to cut a hole in the floor because he forgot Saturday, or something like that.
posted by xingcat at 7:37 AM on August 17 [15 favorites]


Shall I be the first to snark ironically about how nothing's changed, given how we still build websites from first principles, apparently?

"What's going on there? Apparently the Normans have us a plan where horizontal rules are fixed and vertical space flows like embedded BRs."

Hilarious copy, though.
posted by clvrmnky at 7:39 AM on August 17 [1 favorite]


he had to cut a hole in the floor because he forgot Saturday, or something like that.

I hate when that happens.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 7:39 AM on August 17 [5 favorites]


Look do you want to build this Cathedral yourselves

No

Well shut up then


Can totally hear this conversation.
posted by arcticseal at 8:04 AM on August 17 [8 favorites]


If Saturday was his holey day he musta been Jewish.
posted by Segundus at 8:34 AM on August 17 [7 favorites]


Oh be fair, these were built in like 1240 AD, what do you expect? They are older than America.
posted by marienbad at 9:22 AM on August 17


No diapering the pesbytery spandrels in our transepts.

Emperor Justinian, why can't you just be happy with your big-ass dome supported by spherical triangular pendentives?
posted by droro at 9:27 AM on August 17 [3 favorites]


When my SO was teaching the history of cathedral art, I told her that she should write a guidebook and call it: 'Mind Your Narthex'.
posted by ovvl at 9:29 AM on August 17 [3 favorites]


That's an apse-olutely brilliant title.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 9:32 AM on August 17 [4 favorites]


Oh be fair, these were built in like 1240 AD, what do you expect? They are older than America.

Yes, they've certainly lasted much longer than some more recent American houses of worship.
posted by etaoin at 9:36 AM on August 17 [2 favorites]


I totally missed the gorilla passing by!
posted by Foci for Analysis at 9:40 AM on August 17 [5 favorites]


But I like to think the 7° error is somehow mystically significant.

My parents have a relatively small knit piece from some prior generation, with some significant flaws in the symmetry. As described to me, it is because "only God is perfect," but that line of logic might have started with old religious buildings, where the builders botched things up, and said the same thing. Mystically significant, that was the plan all along.
posted by filthy light thief at 9:41 AM on August 17 [5 favorites]


Although all of the buildings in the link are post-Invasion, there's a widely held belief that Anglo-Saxons just didn't like right angles (or radial voussoirs), the church at Chickney in Essex being an extreme example.
posted by Thing at 9:53 AM on August 17 [1 favorite]


As described to me, it is because "only God is perfect," but that line of logic might have started with old religious buildings, where the builders botched things up, and said the same thing.

I've heard the same thing about insignificant flaws in Persian rugs. I've also heard that it's nonsense. I have no idea which claim is true.
posted by IndigoJones at 10:04 AM on August 17 [1 favorite]


I come down on the side of it being poetically true, without necessarily being factual. If that makes sense.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 10:05 AM on August 17 [4 favorites]


Real Navajo rugs often have a "mistake" in the weaving - a line connecting the main design to the edge, crossing the border, so the spirit of the design isn't trapped inside.
posted by gottabefunky at 10:07 AM on August 17 [9 favorites]


Don't forget, early cathedrals were, literally, the pinnacle of cutting edge construction. The whole concept was to build taller AND more open spaces to glorify God. Many took hundreds of years to build, and much was learned from trial and error. Lots of early flying buttresses failed, for example.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 10:11 AM on August 17 [1 favorite]


You guys think these are hilarious, let me show you some professional software projects sometime.
posted by sbutler at 10:28 AM on August 17 [11 favorites]


Real Navajo rugs often have a "mistake" in the weaving - a line connecting the main design to the edge, crossing the border, so the spirit of the design isn't trapped inside.

When I was a kid a Navajo weaver talking to our classroom gave the "only the Great Spirit is perfect" reason for this.
posted by Navelgazer at 10:30 AM on August 17 [1 favorite]


Not mistakes. It's... wabi-sabi.

Yeah.... wabi-sabi. That's the ticket...
posted by infinitelives at 10:46 AM on August 17 [4 favorites]


> spherical triangular pendentives

an improvement, for sure, over squinches
posted by morganw at 10:49 AM on August 17 [1 favorite]


I work in a cathedral setting that isn't exactly ancient - it was built in the early 1920s when cinder block construction was a relatively new concept. This year we have to begin the work of restoring it to some semblance of its original grandeur.

When they built the walls, they used cinder blocks inside the walls and clay bricks on the outside. As it weathers, cinderblock shrinks while clay expands. I know this because a structural engineer explained that the reason we had water inside the walls was because the walls were literally pulling themselves apart. The sanctuary is 14 inches longer today than when it was constructed. I asked him, "why did they do this thing" and he kind of shrugged and said, "you're the pastor, ask them when you get to heaven."
posted by Baby_Balrog at 11:29 AM on August 17 [19 favorites]


UCLA's Royce Hall does this deliberately (scroll down for the image and the accompanying explanation). Something off here...hmmmm...what can it be...
posted by thomas j wise at 11:30 AM on August 17 [1 favorite]


Part of me is "haha, old cathedral builders regularly fucked up" and part of me is imagining the horrors of being a cathedral construction worker in a time without safety protocols of any kind. Every failed buttress or dropped block of masonry probably took out at least a few poor souls.
posted by emjaybee at 11:50 AM on August 17 [3 favorites]


Diaper just means covering (so I always think the Americanism is better than our silly “nappy”).

If my dictionary is to believed, this is misleading.

Diaper is a linen or cotton fabric woven in a repeating pattern of small diamonds, and. by extension, also a repeating geometric or floral pattern used to decorate a surface (from the Greek diaspros* — dia ‘across’ + aspros ‘white,’ by way of Latin and French.) So the diaper is the patterning not the covering, which makes sense in context

[Nappy from napkin, i.e. small cloth (napkin from nappe, the French for tablecloth), so both nappy and diaper are just different ways of saying “cloth”]

*Not to be confused with diaspora, from the Greek diaspeirein ‘disperse,’ from dia ‘across’+ speirein ‘scatter.’
posted by Quinbus Flestrin at 12:03 PM on August 17 [3 favorites]


Part of me is "haha, old cathedral builders regularly fucked up" and part of me is imagining the horrors of being a cathedral construction worker in a time without safety protocols of any kind. Every failed buttress or dropped block of masonry probably took out at least a few poor souls.

This comment made me wonder whether these cathedrals might not have served a double purpose: Christianity faced a long, long struggle to displace paganism in England, but it was probably a little harder to worship trees after so many had gone for scaffolding.
posted by jamjam at 1:08 PM on August 17 [1 favorite]


The text reads like Kate Beaton wrote it. I love it. Now I'm imagining her drawing the people speaking.
posted by sidereal at 4:44 PM on August 17


sidereal: "The text reads like Kate Beaton wrote it. I love it. Now I'm imagining her drawing the people speaking"

I don't know what to call this style, but yeah, it's also quite common over at The Toast, especially Mallory Ortberg's stuff, but also some others. It tickles my funnybone also.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 7:17 PM on August 17 [1 favorite]


As to the amount of planning involved, relevant AskMe. I'm rather skeptical that they winged it very much; that kinda sounds like us 21st century people being overly impressed with ourselves, as usual. Maybe not in Europe, but scale architectural models appear to have been in use in China a thousand years before this, and per the links in that thread there are surviving European architectural drawings from Medieval times.
posted by XMLicious at 12:14 AM on August 18


Dude do you know how to write dialog now

How

You write it like an AIM transcript but without the usernames

Oh really

Yeah

Cool
posted by scose at 10:21 AM on August 18


Ha ha! You said "AIM".
posted by clvrmnky at 5:57 AM on August 19


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