The architecture of Lincoln Cathedral and the cosmologies of Bishop Grosseteste

Hendrix, John (2014) The architecture of Lincoln Cathedral and the cosmologies of Bishop Grosseteste. In: Bishop Robert Grosseteste and Lincoln Cathedral: tracing relationships between medieval concepts of order and built form. Ashgate, Farnham, Surrey. ISBN 9781472412751

Cosmologies of Bishop Grosseteste.pdf

Request a copy
[img] PDF
Cosmologies of Bishop Grosseteste.pdf - Whole Document
Restricted to Repository staff only

Item Type:Book Section
Item Status:Live Archive


The geometrical elements in the architecture of Lincoln Cathedral, in the vaulting and elevations, can be compared to the geometries described by Robert Grosseteste in his cosmologies. The architecture can be read as a catechism of the cosmologies. The geometries appear in the cathedral for the first time in the history of architecture to explain the generation, emanation, reflection, refraction and rarefaction of light as it forms the material world.

The proposition is that the geometries of the architecture of Lincoln Cathedral can be understood in relation to the geometries which are the basis of the cosmologies of Robert Grosseteste, Bishop of Lincoln 1235–53, in particular De lineis, angulis et figuris (On Lines, Angles and Figures, c. 1235), and De luce (On Light, c. 1215). Many of the architectural forms at Lincoln Cathedral are unprecedented in their appearance or use, and they form the basic vocabulary for the entire development of English Gothic architecture. Their radically new appearance has never been adequately explained. Vocabulary elements such as the ridge pole, tierceron or non-structural rib, lierne or segmented ridge rib, flying rib, conoid springer vault or cone of ribs rising from the springer pole in the elevation, triradial vaulting or three ribs meeting at the ridge pole, double syncopated or overlapping arcading, and the bundled and ribbed umbrella column, all originate in some form or are developed for the first time in Lincoln. All of the geometries which appear for the first time in the architecture appear in the cosmologies of Grosseteste, for the purpose of explaining the generation, emanation, reflection, refraction, and rarefaction of light as it forms the material world in geometrical configurations. The cathedral would thus be a catechism of the geometrical substructure of the physical world, in the tradition of the Timaeus of Plato. There is no evidence that the concepts were dictated by Grosseteste directly to masons, but it is well known that such concepts permeated medieval architecture and city planning, and that they were filtered down through all trades involved in construction of the city and the cathedral. Grosseteste’s cosmologies represent a core achievement of Scholasticism, the synthesis of classical philosophy (cosmology) and Catholic theology (light mysticism), which is embodied in the architecture of the cathedral.

Keywords:Architecture, Medieval, Lincoln Cathedral, Robert Grosseteste, Cosmology, Geometry
Subjects:K Architecture, Building and Planning > K110 Architectural Design Theory
V Historical and Philosophical studies > V130 Medieval History
V Historical and Philosophical studies > V530 Scholastic Philosophy
V Historical and Philosophical studies > V500 Philosophy
K Architecture, Building and Planning > K100 Architecture
V Historical and Philosophical studies > V360 History of Architecture
V Historical and Philosophical studies > V600 Theology and Religious studies
Divisions:College of Arts > School of Architecture & Design > School of Architecture & Design (Architecture)
Relation typeTarget identifier
ID Code:7663
Deposited On:26 Feb 2013 10:26

Repository Staff Only: item control page