"Building Civic Pride: Strasbourg Cathedral from 1300 to 1349"

Open Access
Stanford, Charlotte A
Graduate Program:
Art History
Doctor of Philosophy
Document Type:
Date of Defense:
June 26, 2003
Committee Members:
  • Elizabeth Bradford Smith, Committee Chair
  • Craig Robert Zabel, Committee Member
  • Charlotte Marie Houghton, Committee Member
  • James R Sweeney, Committee Member
  • medieval history
  • Gothic architecture
  • church patronage
The years 1300 to 1349 comprised one of the most turbulent eras of political and social unrest in the town of Strasbourg. Paradoxically this was also the time when the divided citizen body began to unite in funding the construction project to complete the cathedral's huge west front. Though usually the responsibility for medieval cathedral building belonged to the clergy, the Oeuvre Notre-Dame workshop at Strasbourg had been governed by lay citizen administration since the late thirteenth century. Though these early citizen patrons came from the ruling patrician class, in a few decades they were joined in their building efforts by the very artisans who were struggling to gain political enfranchisement. Donations to the fabric of the west front began to increase as the result of the creation of a manuscript. This little studied "Liber Donationum" of c. 1320, in which the name of each donor was written, was in large measure responsible for the financial success of the west front project. The book was kept on the altar of the Virgin chapel, where masses were said for the souls of the departed patrons. The book and chapel, together with the west front itself, provided a perpetual memorial for these faithful that was at once more elaborate than any other monument in the city and at the same time affordable to nearly everyone. The completion of Strasbourg's west front, with its famous single spire, is due ultimately to the critical years of the early fourteenth century, when the citizens were persuaded to fund an expensive structure that both offered individual spiritual benefits and promoted the growth of civic unity and pride.