Perpendicular Gothic architecture (1350-1550)

The apogee of British Gothic, all fan vaulting and pointy spires

Identifiable Gothic features

  • Pointed arches. The most significant development of the Gothic era was the discovery that pointed arches could carry far more weight than the rounded ones of the Norman Romanesque.
  • Dogtooth molding. Bands of a repeated decoration of four triangle shaped petals around a raised center; especially seen here in Early English style.
  • Lancet windows. Tall, thin pointy windows, often in pairs or multiples all set into a larger, elliptical pointy arch. Tracery would be added inside and between the points in later periods.
  • Ribbed vaulting. An extension of pointy arches. Ceilings weren't flat; they rose to a point. The square patch of ceiling between four columns would also arch up to a point in the center, creating four sail shapes, sort of like the underside of a pyramid with bulging faces. This is called a cross-vault. The "X" separating these four sails was often reinforced with ridges called ribbing. As the Gothic progressed, four-sided cross-vaults would become fan vaults (see below), and the spaces between the structural ribbing spanned with lierne ribs and tracery (see below).
  • Flying buttresses. Free-standing exterior pillars connected by graceful, thin arms of stone that help channel the weight of the building and its roof out and down into the ground. Not every Gothic church has evident buttresses.
  • Plate tracery. The tip of a window, or the inverted concave-triangular shape between the tips of two side-by-side windows, would often be filled with a flat plate of stone pierced by a light (tiny window), which was either simply round or in a trefoil (three round petals, like a clover) or quatrefoil (four petals) motif.
  • Stained glass. The multitude and size of Gothic windows allowed them to be filled with Bible stories and symbolism writ in the colorful patterns of stained glass. Not all Early English churches had stained glass, but many were later retrofitted with it as it came more into style. 
  • Rose windows. Huge circular windows filled with elegant tracery whose "petals" are filled with stained glass, often appearing as the centerpieces of facades.
  • Spires. Pinnacles of masonry seeming to defy gravity and reach toward Heaven itself.
  • Gargoyles. Drain spouts disguised as wide-mouthed creatures or human heads.
  • Choir screen. The inner wall of the ambulatory/outer wall of the choir section, often decorated with carvings or tombs.

Features specific to the Perpendicular Style

  • Tracery. Delicate, lacy spider webs of carved stone curly-cues gracing the pointy end of windows and cross-vaults.
  • Fan vaulting. Lots of side-by-side, cone-shaped concave vaults springing from the same point, usually covered in elaborately decorative tracery.
  • An emphasis on horizontal and vertical lines What defines the Perpendicular is its broad and rectilinear fashion, especially in the mullioned windows.
  • Mullioned, transomed windows. Perpendicular windows tended to be wide, under flattened arches, their bulk divided into dozens of tiny pointed panes (often with mini–plate tracery) by mullions (vertical bars) and transoms (horizontals). The tops would be filled with tracery. This cage-like motif often carried over to the decoration on the walls as well.
  • Redbrick. The Tudors were fond of building with red bricks—a feature that the later Victorian Gothic Revival would take to with gusto.

Best Examples

The Perpendicular first showed up in the exterior, choir, and south transept of Gloucester Cathedral, and its cloisters contain the earliest example of fan vaulting.

King's College Chapel at Cambridge has England's most magnificent fan vaulting, along with some fine stained glass.

Henry VII's Chapel in London's Westminster Abbey is textbook Perpendicular, as is the lovely Bath Abbey.

At Windsor are two great examples, the College Chapel at Eton College (the stained glass is modern, and the fan vaulting painstakingly redone in 1957, but the 15th century murals are original), and the St. George's Chapel in Windsor Castle (a gorgeous lierne nave vault with fan vaulting in the aisles, and beautifully carved choir stalls).