GaWC Project 70

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Cities and Capital Investments in English Cathedrals and Major Churches, 1050-1450

Funded by: Loughborough University (2007)

Researchers: Heike Jöns and Peter Taylor



Medieval cathedrals and major churches in England represent former seats of political and economic power as churchly-religious and secular-political interests were inextricably linked during the Middle Ages. Kings, archbishops, bishops, abbots and other guardians of towns and cities, including the ruling class of merchants after the commercial revolution, strived to build the largest and most fashionable churches they could afford, often in competition with each other. Expanding cities not only required new parish churches in new urban quarters but also inspired the replacement of the central cathedral/church in larger size and most recent style.

The core of this project is a data collection exercise on building activity in England's cathedrals and major churches. Using thirds of a century as the census periods, the building work on some 300 cathedrals and churches is coded 0 to 4 to indicate the changing historical geography of this important capital investment. The aim of the research is then to relate this both to the basic long economic cycle of the medieval period and to the growth variations of cities.

The method of data collection builds upon work on medieval centres of interaction within today's borders of Germany published in the Nationalatlas Bundesrepublik Deutschland. As illustrated by the map below, the number of recorded major new buildings and conversions of existing cathedrals/major churches reveals the changing significance of individual towns and cities during the Middle Ages. While this was related, among other things, to locational shifts of trade routes and seats of political power, Cologne is depicted as the most powerful German medieval city throughout the centuries. The use of building activity at cathedrals/major churches as an indicator for economic, political and cultural centres of interaction loses its value towards the end of the Middle Ages, when only a few new cities were founded (e.g. in the mining areas of Baden-Württemberg and the Free State of Saxony) and ongoing building activity was delayed or suspended due to epidemics, wars and lack of financial resources (e.g. at Cologne cathedral, c. 1560).


pdf file of map (1MB)