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By Edward Bleiberg

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But as medieval architecture developed in complexity, drawing became an increasingly important tool in the process of design and construction. Few drawings are known before the twelfth century: the famous plan of Saint-Gall, created in the early ninth century, is less a construction blueprint than a conceptual diagram that sets out the scheme of an ideal monastery. As late as 1178 when William of Sens, architect of the new choir at Canterbury Cathedral, was seriously injured after falling from scaffolding, he attempted to supervise construction by having himself carried to the building site on a stretcher.

1135 Construction begins on the west façade block of the abbey church of Saint-Denis (dedicated in 1140), with three portals and the first example of a rose window. 1139 Construction begins on the abbey of Fontenay, exemplar of Cistercian architecture during the lifetime of influential churchman Bernard of Clairvaux. 1140 Construction begins on the new choir of Saint-Denis (dedicated in 1144) with columns recalling the churches of Rome. c. 1145 Construction begins on the choir of the abbey of Saint-Germain-des-Prés in Paris, one of the earliest buildings to use flying buttresses.

These important buildings show clearly who had the power and was able to gather the resources of materials, men, and money necessary for their construction. They also reveal the activities and values that were most highly prized and the issues that were deemed the most urgent. Rather than focusing attention on art museums, corporate skyscrapers, or sports stadiums as is common today, the most extravagant medieval architecture was concentrated on churches, aristocratic palaces, and defensive structures.

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