Medieval Architecture

What was medieval architecture?

The term “medieval architecture” refers to any architecture or construction which was completed during the Medieval period – which is to say, during the Middle Ages. During the Middle Ages, the field of architecture was expanded greatly, and huge advances were made in both the materials used and design complexity of its structures.

Bodiam Castle, England, fourteenth century.

What materials were used in medieval architecture?

During the Middle Ages, wood was abandoned as an exterior building material, now used only for the internal support of the structure. Stone became the standard building material, with the strength and rarity of the stone depending on the size and importance of the structure it was being used for.

Cloisters of Mont Saint-Michel, Normandy, France.

Peasants houses would be made of a sedimentary rock like limestone – while palaces, cathedrals, churches would be built of something finer. Wooden structural support and internal frames became popular as they increased the strength of the building reduced risk of collapse – something that was a risk in ancient homes.

Collapse still risk in the taller buildings of Medieval Europe, particularly for the cheap high-rise “tenements” where peasants lived, but they were substantially safer than the mud and wood huts of old.

What kind of buildings were built in the Middle Ages?

Most famous Medieval buildings were built for religious purposes – because Catholicism spread so rapidly during the Middle Ages, a great number of churches, temples, and cathedrals were built to venerate (honor) the church. Examples of these include the Notre Dame, the Tower of London and the Cologne Cathedral.

While the church funded many of these buildings, it was the peasantry of Europe who built them. Many of the buildings sponsored by the church are still standing today, which is a testament to their design.

What are the styles of medieval architecture?

Medieval architecture is divided into three key styles – pre-Romanesque, Romanesque, and Gothic. All three of these styles were very different to each other.

Pre-Romanesque architecture was the dominant style of the Early Middle Ages, and was notable for its relative simplicity compared to the other two styles. While some pre-Romanesque buildings were very highly decorated, most were just functional, and weren’t particularly designed to be artistic.

Romanesque architecture, on the other hand, were structures designed with clear influence from the Roman Empire. These buildings were elaborate and highly decorative; marble arches, stone domes, and highly decorated interiors became the norm in the high Middle Ages, the very center of the period.

Finally, Gothic architecture was the most popular style of the Late Middle Ages, and is probably the style you’re most familiar with – many famous buildings, such as the Notre Dame, are prominent examples of Gothic architecture.

Gothic architecture focused particularly on heavily designed exteriors, and the use of shapes such as spires and half arches to distinguish their designs. The flying buttresses and complex stained-glass windows were two other key aspects of Gothic architecture.

How did the development of medieval architecture affect other parts of society?

The development of architecture during the Middle Ages also lent itself to the development of naval technology and design. Discoveries made in architecture for buildings lent themselves to boat construction and design, and allowed for stronger, sturdier ships to be built for exploration.

The Age of Exploration also had a positive effect on medieval architecture – as explorers saw the civilizations and architecture of countries like China and Japan, ideas and inspirations for new designs were brought back to Europe.

Facts about Medieval Architecture:

  • The term “medieval architecture” refers to any architecture or construction which was completed during the Middle Ages.
  • Stone was the main building material used during the Middle Ages.
  • Wooden supports began to be used to reinforce the interiors of buildings during the Middle Ages.
  • However, structural collapse was still a risk for peasants living in cheap homes.
  • There were three main styles of medieval architecture; pre-Romanesque, Romanesque, and Gothic, from the Early, High and Late parts of the Middle Ages respectively.
  • The most famous buildings of the Middle Ages were built during the Gothic period.
  • Some famous medieval structures include the Notre Dame, the Cologne Cathedral, and the Tower of London.
  • Most medieval works of architecture were churches and cathedrals, due to the growth of Catholicism in this period.


  1. What does the term medieval architecture refer to?

–  Any architecture or construction which was completed during the Middle Ages.

  1. What are the three styles of medieval architecture?

– Pre-Romanesque, Romanesque, Gothic.

  1. Name three famous buildings from the Middle Ages.

– The Tower of London, the Notre Dame, the Cologne Cathedral.

  1. Why were so many churches and cathedrals built during the medieval period?

– Catholicism became very popular/spread very quickly, and the Catholic Church paid for them to be built.

  1. What was the main building material of the Middle Ages?

– Stone.