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Masters of the Great Cathedrals

Artists and craftsmen, the master masons gained status as the Gothic period developed. Emerging around 1260, the master mason is not what our modern minds would think of as a mason. He was a skilled man responsible for the design and construction of the entire cathedral. As such, he never laid a single stone. An architect is the best comparison we have today of this profession. The mason was trained and experienced in the uses of both wood and stone. He had skilled artisans working for him to shape and place the blocks. Below is a stone that was found upon the reconstruction of a cathedral. It was used as a tracing block by gothic masters.

Originally all French or French-trained, around 1300 employing a more local master mason became the norm. Masons would be trained in England, then sent abroad to see the cathedrals of the world. Often they were quite influenced by what they saw in such places as Mongolia and thus a new style could be formed.

(see the Decorated Period for examples.)

The names of many of the master masons who built the cathedrals are known to us , for example, Nicholas of Ely built Salisbury Cathedral. There would be court masons who worked for the kings, as well as those who were hired by the Church. Hiring a master craftsman could also be an excellent cover for ulterior motives. Perhaps a certain British king wished information about the king of Italy so that he could invade his country. The master craftsman would be sent to Italy on a fact-finding mission under the guise of visiting cathedrals for artistic inspiration. This is one reason that the choice of hired master masons and builders was kept a secret by their patrons.

Created by: Amy Johansen