Chester capture1Chester cathedral in the north west of England (map) was initially used as a pilot study to test the digital surveying methods, however, this also gave us data that will be valuable for later analysis in terms of medieval vault design and construction. The vaults of the Lady Chapel and Chapter House were scanned.

The vaults offer a similar design of two different dates: the Chapter House is generally dated to c.1250-1260 and the Lady Chapel c.1260-1280. In some ways both designs are conservative for their period, with lancets rather than tracery windows. Nevertheless, the designer of the Lady Chapel was clearly aware of the fashion for bar tracery, which is used in the sedilia (seats for officiating clergy) and piscina (place for washing sacred vessels) in the Lady Chapel, whilst the Chapter House vestibule has been claimed to have the earliest rib vaults without capitals at the impost (Pevsner et al, 2011, p.233). This suggests that the designs were the result of sophisticated choice rather than ignorance. Another feature shared between both sites is ridge ribs which do not extend to the side walls, giving the tiercerons and ridge ribs a triradial form similar to the vaults of the Lincoln cathedral nave, the earliest tierceron vault (c.1235-45). However although the plan of both vaults is very similar in 2-D, their 3-D forms are very different: the Chapter House vaults have lower springing points in relationship to the windows and the wall ribs of the Lady Chapel are foiled. This made the two vaults an ideal pair for trialling our method in preparation for the first major case study at Wells cathedral, where comparable differences had been observed. Finally, although there has been research on early vault forms (the origins of rib vaulting and the earliest sexpartite vaults) and on complex late Gothic vaults, there has to date been little study of the experiments with decorative ribs which enabled the introduction of liernes (additional ribs which do not spring from the corner of a bay).

Hartwell, C., M. Hyde, E. Hubbard and N. Pevsner (2011), Cheshire. Pevsner Architectural Guides, The Buildings of England, New Haven and London: Yale University Press

A collaborative research project using digital techniques to investigate medieval vault design in the British Isles.