In the Middle Ages, art was inseparable from religion. The English architecture was infused with meaning and symbolism. It was the purpose of art and castles to inspire and awe the viewer with the grandeur of God.
Priests were of the opinion that the only way to get through to the illiterate people was through art since they couldn’t read the word of God. In the days of yore, buildings in England had a Romanesque period type.
After that, the Norman type of British architecture was prevalent followed by Embellishment and Gothic architecture such as the iconic Westminster Abbey, York minster, etc. We read and see about these castles in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight book as well. These castles then gave way to decorated type, perpendicular churches, and then fashionable mansions.
Let’s take a look at some famous castles to better understand structures in medieval England.
1. Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Cambridge
In the late 11th century, after the first crusade, beautiful castles were very popular in English history. These churches were modeled after the original castle in Jerusalem that was created over Jesus’s final resting place by Constantine in 4th BC.
The Normans Cambridge translated this abbey into their own type with thick pillars, supporting round arches, stained glass windows of the great east window, the east end castle throne, as well as concentric carvings in the wall.
2. Boothby Pagnell Manor, Lincolnshire
This one of the few surviving pieces of domestic art from the early Norman architecture era, its end in c1200. In this structure, the first floor is accessible by a staircase that is external. It contains a small bedchamber and a hall, whereas the ground floor would have been the servants’ space.
This structure was probably joined with a larger timber structure and tower, which would have been surrounded by a moat. The gothic style structure even has a chimney – in the medieval period, this decoration was the height of luxury in history.
3. St Mary and David, Kilpeck, Herefordshire
This building and its structure are that of a typical town church tower in the 12th century. However, the carvings are amazing, in quality as well as quantity. There is a lexicon of UK symbolism around the corbels as well as the southern gate.
There are a few pagan entries as well. Mythical beasts, snakes eating their own tails, etc. are rampant. There are Christian figures as well, such as angels, etc.
4. All Saints, Earls Barton, Northamptonshire
This is a 10th-century abbey that is full of decorations and ornaments, such as decorative strips of plaster. None of these decorative pieces is necessary to the structure and is more likely to be an imitation of the timber-framed structures.
There are 5-light windows around the belfry. The short pattern of the cornerstones is characteristically Saxon. From Victorian pews to rood screen, there are various elements of history in the abbey that will grab your attention.
5. White Tower, Tower of London
The white tower of London was the primary power base of William the Conqueror defeated king harold. It was an architectural gesture to his reluctant subjects which demonstrated that he was here and he was here to stay.
In the era of its construction, the type of this structure was unlike that of any other structure in England. He brought Caen stone to finish the corners, which were later painted. It was a gloomy royal residence but a strong, impregnable military stronghold with the shortest sea crossing.
6. Chapel of St John the Evangelist, Escomb
This structure was created to last and is indeed one of the well-preserved castles in Europe from the 7th century. This structure was built between 670 & 690. It was a common Saxon practice to take the stone from nearby Roman forts.
A few of its features, such as the north door & the chancel arch, are thought to have been directly reassembled from the Romanesque style forts nearby. The structure remained relatively unchanged in the medieval church architecture era.
The small openings are typically Saxon in nature as it was their type to build small apertures splayed on the inside for maximum light.
7. Durham Cathedral
As Samuel Johnson said, this structure awes more than it pleases. It is one of the finest Norman castles in England and is a huge architectural leap. It was built in 1093 and the pointed arches and the system of ribs was its key innovation.
The large structure is home to various mysteries – the odd column with varying patterns does remind one of the mysteries in a Dan Brown novel.
8. Saint Laurence’s church, Bradford-on-Avon, Wiltshire
Vikings destroyed other churches from this era but this humble structure prevailed. Maybe this castle was overlooked as its proportions are relatively modest. The nave of this structure is only 25 ft. long.
However, the later owners added another floor and used it as a school. In 1856, it was recognised as a Saxon survivor. The blind arcading is definitely pre-Norman. The most remarkable features of this abbey are the 2 carved sculptures of angels known as “Bradford Angels”.
9. Saint Mary’s, Sompting, Sussex
The pyramid-topped spire of Saint Mary’s is extraordinary and incongruous even today. The type was imported in the time of Edward the Confessor from the Rhineland. Underneath the fancy spire, the triangular, narrow apertures are awe-inspiring.
The remaining parts of the church were built by the Knights Templar and King Henry II in the 12th century.
10. Saint Botolph, Hadstock, Essex
The door of Saint Botolph is believed to be one of the oldest doors in England. This little, simple church shows how little the English village life has changed over the ages. Even though a lot of 11th-century features such as the roof, walls, columns, remain the same through the centuries after the Norman era, the castle has been through several changes.
The castle has been in constant use for more than 1,000 years. According to historians, it was probably built by Canute in lieu of his victory at the Battle of Assandun and the castle has survived damage in the country’s civil war.
The art and architecture of the medieval buildings are awe-inspiring and draws the attention of anyone who looks at it. Art was used as a means of religious teachings in those times and beautiful churches were built to attract followers.