Canterbury Cathedral is one of England's most renowned buildings as it was one of the most important pilgrimage sites in Europe after the martyrdom of St Thomas Becket there. The building pioneered Gothic architecture in England as it was the first to incorporate early Gothic vocabulary into its fabric and one of the first to experiment with the Perpendicular style in the late Middle Ages. The decision to rebuild the nave and transepts entirely in the Perpendicular style was made after an earthquake damaged the cathedral in 1382. The architect hired for this job was Henry Yevele (1320-1400), who was one of the most creative medieval architects in England, working at the court of Richard II. Yevele rebuilt the nave in an early Perpendicular style, and the south transept window was built by one of Yevele's successors, Thomas Mapilton (d. 1438). The stone for the window was quarried from Caen in 1428, transported to London and assembled in the 1430s. Mapilton was a master mason who built the cloisters in Durham Cathedral and who also worked on Westminster Abbey and the Tower of London prior to his appointment at Canterbury. In addition to the south transept window, Mapilton is also credited with building the south-west tower at Canterbury. The Cathedral and its late Gothic architects were pioneers of the Perpendicular style, which was characterised by perpendicular lines, continuous mullions and delicate tracery patterns. The architects of this style often inserted so much glass into the walls of their buildings that the structures truly became glass houses. The south window of Canterbury cathedral illustrates this very well as it occupies almost the entire height and width of the transept (fig. 2).
Canterbury Cathedral and its south window underwent much repair, rebuilding and restoration over the centuries. Thus, when recent structural analysis of the window showed signs of major failure, a decision was made to supplement some of its tracery with new stone in order to save the window from further damage. The pieces that were removed were sold directly by Canterbury Cathedral. The present springer mullion is among the principal sections of the original 15th-century tracery to have survived from the window (fig. 3).
For more discussions on related Gothic architecture, see Christopher Wilson, The Gothic Cathedral, London, 1990, and Paul Frankl, Gothic Architecture, revised by Paul Crossley, New Haven, 2000.
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