|West end of St Michael's Longstanton, with its ancient well and churchyard wall.|
What gives a gothic building away is the windows: the revivalists called it the Pointed style. They divided the gothic into three phases, easily identifiable by the window tracery:
- early, with simple tracery, regarded as full of energy but underdeveloped
- middle, decorated or flamboyant, regarded as the high-point of the style
- late or perpendicular, in which the vertical bars go all the way to the top, regarded as degenerate and enervated
|Decorated tracery in St Michael's nave. The pulpit and lectern are on either side of the nave, at its junction with the chancel.|
- how it is engineered
- what materials it is made of.
Secondly, carved decoration is not gratuitous but ornaments structural features, such as the window tracery, or the alternating rounded and squared pillar heads below: it is decorated construction, not constructed decoration. Pugin observed that this was the case for all gothic decoration. A larger building than St Michael's, such as a cathedral, had a more complex structure and therefore more opportunity for ornament: foliated pinnacles, for example, add important weight to a flying buttress, while grotesque gargoyles are decorated drainpipes.
|St Michael's is an honest building: you can see its pillars and arches holding up the roof, decorated pillar and window heads, wooden ceiling, tiled floor, stone walls, and thatched roof.|
- a clearly separated nave and the chancel, with more ornament in the chancel
- a porch to the south
- a bell tower suitable to the scale of the church
- three steps up to the altar
- an east window with three lights, to represent the Trinity
|St Michael's has a south-facing porch, bell tower, clear separation of (larger) nave and chancel (in the foreground), and buttresses supporting the walls.|
The modern visitor's eye might be more likely to be caught by the imposing key you borrow to get in, which goes in and turns the opposite way to modern keys, and the ancient, perhaps pagan, well, with its stone cross cut into the rear wall: the local tradition is babies can only be baptised when the morning sun shines from the east through the cross and into the well:
But if you visit St Michael's -- or any church built in the Medieval thirteenth century, or the Victorian 1840s, have a look for Pugin and the Ecclesiologists' principles of gothic: visible engineering and materials, ornamented structure rather than constructed ornament, and liturgical ordering in the architecture. For them, this wasn't just a pretty, interesting, or convenient building, it was, like the faith it was built to house, intended to be a true one.