G. K. Chesterton reveals the beauty of Gothic Architecture in The Architect of Spears



In the essay The Architect of Spears, Chesterton makes an imaginative exploration of the charm and beauty of the Gothic Architecture. He discovers the very soul of the stone that he finds in Lincoln cathedral. And every stone appears to him alive, dynamic and thought provoking, full of abounding energy and spontaneity, bearing ample marks of the very beauty of Gothic Architecture. But the striking feature of this essay is the clarity of Chesterton’s imaginative vision happily wedded to his wit. The mingling of the richness of wit and imagination makes Chesterton’s style somewhat paradoxical, and yet all the more lively and interesting. So, in The Architect of Spears, are do not find a simple narrative or a logically developed idea. Instead, “The talent of Chesterton has succeeded in instilling new life into many truism”.

The very name ‘Gothic’ appears to have been taken in the first instance from the French. And the term ‘Gothic Architecture’ has been employed to denote a style of architecture prevailing in Western Europe from 12th to 16th century. Broadly speaking, ‘Gothic Architecture’ means a style of architecture which is not classical or which does not belong to Greek or Rome. At any rate, the author visits the Lincoln Cathedral and he is surprised to see the strange greatness of ‘Gothic Architecture’. Chesterton feels at this point that its richness and complexity, and at once lively and mysterious have not been properly discussed. It is true, admits Chesterton, that there is richness and complexity in Eastern Architecture also, but the oriental decoration lacks dynamism. There is something heartless, stiff and static in the exquisite ornament of Arabia and India. It is like the vision of a sneering sage, who sees the whole universe as a pattern. But there is no such fearing sensation in Gothic Architecture which is unique for its gaiety and grandeur, “we take of the inimitable grandeur of the old Cathedrals, but indeed, it is rather their gaiety that we do not dare to imitate”. To emphasize this point of gaiety and grandeur reflected in the Gothic Architecture, Chesterton again says: “yet that would be only doing in music what the mediaeval did in sculpture.

Lincoln cathedral
But though the gaiety of Gothic is one of its main features, its unique effect does not simply lie in its gaiety. Japanese sketches are delightful, but the pleasure that we find in them is certainly different from the joy and energy of Gothic Architecture. The Writer feels that it is not simply a joy for its rude and savage style, “some have even been so shallow and illiterate as to maintain that our pleasure in mediaeval building is a mere pleasure in what is barbaric, in what is rough, shapeless or crumbling like the rocks”. In fact, these shallow and superficial thesis, thinks Chesterton, are unable to appreciate the very uniqueness of the mediaeval art. What the author feels in seeing the Lincoln Cathedral is the living and dynamic beauty in its architecture. He goes straight to the soul of the stones. And by using paradoxes he explores the very essence of its lively charm in his words, “They were varied, but it was not variety; they were solemn, but it was not solemnity; they were farcical, but it was not farce”.



The truth about ‘Gothic Architecture’ is first that it is alive and second, that it is in the march.  The columns are like the huge feet of imperial elephants. A man in the center is ordering regiments. Evidently it is the voice of the Architect of spear. The author here is tempted to imagine for the moment that “the whole of that house of life had marched out of the sacred East, alive and interlocked, like an army.”. The whole mountain of music and darkness seems to descend on the lonely Lincoln Hill. So, for some hundred and sixty seconds the author stands hypnotized and perplexed being absorbed in the battle beauty of the Gothic.
Chesterton enjoys this optical illusion for sometimes and is transported to the world of dream and enchantment stemming from the majestic beauty and charm of the Gothic Architecture of Lincoln Cathedral.