Stairway to heaven : the functions of Medieval upper spaces by Toby Huitson

By Toby Huitson

Spiral stairs, galleries and top chambers in medieval cathedrals, abbeys and parish church buildings were a permanent resource of fascination to students because the eighteenth century. yet what have been those mystery stairs, mysterious galleries and hidden top rooms truly used for - and the way will we comprehend? This e-book provides the facts for the sensible features of ecclesiastical higher areas from c. 1000-1550 as published throughout the widest number of medieval visible, documentary, and inventive media ever assembled for the aim, taking in treasuries to dovecotes, libraries to lighting fixtures, and mystery video games of skittles over the vaults to the bold exploits of the twelfth-century 'Flying monk'. Toby Huitson considers those themes with many others, supplying a substantially new realizing of medieval high-level functionality. Dr Toby Huitson teaches on the college of Kent, Canterbury

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John Evelyn, the renowned seventeenth-century diarist and co-founder of the Royal Society, proudly recalled that as a small boy he was educated in the porch chamber at Wotton, Surrey, while at Tunstall, Lancashire (the model for Brocklebridge in Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre), school pupils took meals in the porch room between Sunday services. Medieval upper spaces often functioned as recreational and social spaces in later centuries. 17 By way of contrast, the disused triforium gallery in London at the former monastic church of St Bartholomew’s Priory, Smithfield, was serving more soberly as a Methodist meeting-place by the early nineteenth century.

This provides a much more attractive and uniform surface, but is not particularly long-lasting and has often flaked off to reveal the surface beneath (for instance, at St Mary, Kenardington, Kent). The best quality of finish was a lining of smooth curved ashlar blocks. This creates the most attractive and durable finish, although it was probably also by far the most expensive.

Close examination of the case-study stairs can cast fresh light on existing theories of how this formal change from Romanesque to Gothic design took place. 7 However, there is no evidence to suggest that tailed newels appeared immediately prior to c. 8 Instead, the design transition from barrel-vaulted to monolithic stairs was probably much more complex and subtle than usually assumed. Near-monolithic steps, missing only the newel projections, are found in the lowest courses of several twelfth-century vices, such as those in St Andrew’s chapel and the Corona tower at Canterbury Cathedral (Fig.

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