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The Virtual othic Cathedral

The Stonecutters: The Trade

medieval mason's toolsIn the 12th century, the medieval guilds grew to rest the power once tightly held by the feudal land barons, and in so doing heralded economic freedom not known until then.

Stonecutters, in particular, wasted no time in organizing and virtually monopolizing the trade in towns and cities throughout Europe.  With a code of business ethics established, rules were rigidly enforced for upholding the guild's reputation. In return, a loyal member could expect steady work, and his expenses met - along with those of his family - should he become sick or injured.

Boys were ready for acceptance into the guild at the age of 11 or 12. Entry was easier if they had a relative in the business - for example, a father who notre dame pariswas a stonecutter (and with a set of tools to bequeath). Once accepted, applicants embarked on a five year apprenticeship with a master stonecutter who, as well as professional training, provided room and board. Trainees with an artistic bent were encouraged since carvers or sculptors could go on to earn additional pay - whether in currency or extra food or wine rations.

With training completed, apprentices were eager to ply the trade as journeyman, striking out on their own to work for higher wages, with more varied projects in other cities and with other masters. 


French vs. English In a Nutshell

The first to incorporate the flying buttress, the French used cutting edge technology to achieve greater height which was never really rivaled by their English counterparts. Stained glass, i.e., at Chartres and Amiens, was also more favored as a decorative element. In comparison, the strength of the English architects lie in their use of intricate interior masonry as seen in the fan vaulting in the Henry VII chapel at Westminster Abbey, and at Kings College Chapel, Cambridge.

Experienced journeymen eventually applied for the position of master after passing a rigid guild exam in which they submitted a 'master-piece' of stonecutting to the guild for acceptance. The cycle was completed when a new master set up his own shop and sought out apprentices. From these ranks of master stonecutters often came the Gothic engineers and master builders.

medieval woman stone carverIn general, the 'high crafts' (stone, wood and ironcrafters) received a better salary rate than in other trades, with stonecutters among the highest paid.

Women were occasionally employed as stone carvers, although not officially accepted into the guild. Legends persist about Sabina Von Steinbach, who assisted her father in the building of Strasbourg Cathedral. Very real images in stained glass depict at least one woman in the highly respected role of stonecarver at Bourges Cathedral (above).

The Trade

Chapter II. The Stained Glass Painters

The Virtual Gothic Cathedral:


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