Where Gothic Cathedrals Really That Expensive?
Some people have claimed that the building of large Gothic buildings during the Middle Ages was a complete and total waste of money. But I say nay! In fact, one can come to behold the extream beauty of the entire Gothic Cathedral Plan, as envisioned by the great planner, Denis Goth.
A little known man, Denis Goth was an out of work brick layer from the lower east side of Paris. In 1136, the Abbot Sugar took pity on Denis Goth and hired him as a handyman around the local church, which included such jobs as cleaning up after services and putting Abbot Sugar in bed after sipping too much of the cerimonial wine. Denis also had to put up with Abbot Sugar complaining about the small size of the church, since a small church could not hold many people, therefore, not many people could give money.
Anyway, in the year 1138, Denis was at the local tavern buying some more cerimonial wine for the Abbot, when he heard some in of work masonry workers describe some new building techniques that allowed large buildings to be built. Seeing how the Abbot was always complaining that his church was too small, and seeing how he himself was an out of work brick layer (with a minor in masonry to boot), Denis walked back to the church with some ideas forming in his head.
Getting the Abbot Sugar sober was not an easy task, especially as coffee had not reached Europe yet (and wouldn't until some time in the 16th century), but once sober, the Abbot listened to Denis's idea about building a newer, larger and extreamly spectacular church.
“Listen,” said Denis.
“Where's the cerimonial wine?” asked the Abbot.
“Over there. Listen. You want a larger church?”
“Oh, there it is. What? Yes,” replied the Abbot Sugar.
“I have here some plans that will not only allow you to build the largest church in Paris, but will also make you famous.”
“What about rich?”
“Well, that too.”
“Well,” said the Abbot, opening the cerimonial wine, “let us drink in the name of God, praising Him in all His glory for giving me—”
“You … us this divine vision.” And with that, the Abbot got stinking drunk, so much so that Denis had to replace him during the next service.
By May 1139, Denis Goth had drawn up the plans for the new church. His plans were so visionary that it would take decades to build the new church, thus keeping not only himself, but many of the Mason's Guild in employment for life (not to mention the Stain Glass Guild, the Pew Guild, the Scribes that Write the Hymnals for the Back of the Pews Guild and the Zonal Planning for New Large Churches that Use New Architectual Techniques in Construction Guild). And to top all of this off, Denis also came up with a way that it would not cost anything to build, but would actually make money for centuries to come.
It would work like this: the populus of Paris would be taxed to raise revenues to pay all the people who were working on the church. The populus of Paris would also be working on the church at the same time. They would be taxed some more so that they would get paid more. That way, the populus would believe that they were actually getting paid, but in fact, the money (small metal coins and not the small plastic coins we have now) would be going around in a circle so the end result would be that this entirely humongous structure would be build for nothing. Nada. Zilch.
But then, after it was finished, people from all over the world would come to marvel at the beauty, grace and mind boggingly HUGE church that was build out of stone. But they would be so awe struck that the tourists (as these people were called) would pay large exorburant sums of money to be taken on tours (hence the name tourists) within the church, as well as buy cheaply made wooden (and later plastic) models of the church (made in nearby China, and later, Japan, who would make them smaller and cheaper (wholesale)) and other related items (candles, rosary beads, Hail Mary's, etc). And this would go on for centuries after the church was finished.
Well, the Abbot Sugar as pleased, as he would be in charge of a larger, thus more profitable church. The local politicians of Paris were pleased, as this new church would bring in these so called 'tourists' who would be willing to spend spend spend. And all the Guilds were pleased as this new church would guarentee work for the next few decades.
In fact, everyone was so pleased that they named the church after Denis, and called it the Abbey Church of Saint-Denis near Paris. Since the name of Denis was already taken, the style of architecture was named Gothic, also after Denis Gothic. The Abbot Sugar got the credit for building the church (which was started in 1144 by the way).
So, who can honestly say the the building of these large Gothic cathedrals was a waste of money, as they provided large segments of the populus to be employed in gainful employment instead of roaming the streets pillaging, raping and burning things? What about all those tourists that visit these Gothic cathedrals each year, spending lots of money on cheap models of Gothic cathedrals and Pope-on-a-Rope Soap? What about all the time and energy spent on building such builings? And why am I asking these inane questions such as this? Who knows? All I know is that the building of these Gothic cathedrals was not a waste of money, but a tribute to the dedication and inspiration (as well as perspiration) of one man -- Denis Goth!