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Presented at the Conference on Heavenly Discourses, University of Bristol, UK, 2011


Many of the vaults in English Gothic cathedrals and churches are catechisms of cosmologies and celestial vaults. The tierceron and lierne ribs at Lincoln Cathedral, for example, and later lierne and net vaults at Bristol Cathedral and St. Mary Redcliffe, for example, display the geometries that can be found in medieval cosmologies such as the De Luce and De Lineis, Angulis et Figuris of Robert Grosseteste in the thirteenth century. The vaults can be read as intelligible structures of matter and the heavenly bodies. The vaulting of the nave of Lincoln Cathedral between 1235 and 1245, during the bishopric of Grosseteste, introduces basic vocabulary elements continued in later vaulting, and can be seen as a catechism of Grosseteste’s cosmologies. The lierne vault of the choir of Bristol Cathedral, built between 1300 and 1330, has a structural organic quality. The nave vault, completed to its medieval design in the nineteenth century, is a Lincoln-style tierceron vault. The transept vaulting, from between 1460 and 1480, presents an intelligible geometrical structure intended as a cosmology. The vault of the North Porch of St. Mary Redcliffe, from 1325, has a crystalline organic form. The Curvilinear vaulting in the transepts, from the early fourteenth century, presents a cosmology of Euclidean geometries. The nave vault, from between 1337 and 1342, suggests organic topographical lines and vectors of forces in nature and heavenly bodies, simulating the celestial vault. The choir vault, from around 1450, revives the Euclidean geometries of classical cosmologies, in particular the Timaeus of Plato.