Saturday, September 29, 2012

The Geometric Tools of the Medieval Mason

Dividing a line in half, drawn by myself.

The methods, techniques, and importance of medieval masonry are lost to us today.

Masons of the past left no written documents, and the earliest "sketchbook" of masonry techniques is from the Fifteenth century.  What about the many cathedrals and buildings constructed before the fifteenth century?  How were they built, and how did the masons think about them?

During recent decades academics and researchers have found full scale tracings on the floor of some cathedrals, and archaeological research has established the sequence of stone construction.  From these evidences we can begin to see just how the masons worked.

The working methods of the masons relied heavily upon applied geometry.  The full scale tracings on cathedral floors demonstrate the use of geometrical forms, and the shapes of individual stones could not have been determined without applied geometry.  There is consensus today about the presence of applied geometry in medieval masonry.

In my Ph.D. thesis I argued for the importance of applied geometry in medieval masonry, and I attempted to describe the religious value applied geometry would have had for medieval masons.  My argument required I physically draw geometry that could feasibly be used in stone masonry, and three examples (of many) are included here.  My argument also required I physically draft stone, and that exercise can be seen here: The Principle of Stone Cutting.

Applied geometry was infused with religious meaning and sentiment, and ultimately religion was the source of technological progress.  Such a conclusion sounds foreign to us because today secular science brings us the things we value, like computers, or the polio vaccine.  However, eight hundred years ago it was religion that built the buildings that would not be surpassed in height for the next seven hundred years.

An equilateral triangle, drawn by myself.

Another equilateral triangle, drawn by myself.