Sunday, 16 September 2007

The Medieval Stonemason - A mason's craft

A mason's craft

The medieval mason was not a monk but a highly skilled lay craftsman who combined the roles of architect, builder, craftsman, designer and engineer. Using only a set of compasses, a set square and a staff or rope marked off in halves, thirds and fifths, the mason was able to construct some of the most amazing structures ever built: Gothic cathedrals. Their awesome size combined with their appearance of lightness and fragility have led people to believe that medieval masons had some magical secret but this was actually just an understanding of proportion and basic geometry.

Contemporary illustrations of master masons show them to have been prosperous middle class professionals. The men they supervised, who did much of the actual carving and laying of stone, were like modern skilled tradesmen, and many younger men still learning the trade worked on the building sites as labourers. Masons shared their secrets openly and many medieval buildings imitate each other in style and technique. The choir at Lincoln Cathedral, for instance, is similar to that at Ely, and both copy Westminster Abbey. Designs for the building were worked out at full scale on tracing floors covered in soft plaster. Such floors survive at Wells Cathedral and at York Minster. Sometimes drawings on parchment were also made and at Worcester a carving shows a mason giving a drawing to a monk.

'Building a great cathedral was hard work and often dangerous.'

All the stones were carved on the ground before they were set in place. Larger blocks were carved at quarries which made them lighter and easier to transport. Individual masons used special symbols to ensure that they were paid for the blocks they carved.

More » BBC The Medieval Stonemason

Carol Davidson Cragoe
,The Medieval Stonemason, BBC, UK, viewed 16 September 2007, <>

No comments: