Great Cathedral Mystery

GreatCathedralMysterySuggested by Brad Nelson • The dome of Florence’s cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore is a masterpiece of Renaissance ingenuity and an enduring source of mystery. Still the largest masonry dome on earth after more than six centuries, it is taller than the Statue of Liberty and weighs as much as an average cruise ship.
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One Response to Great Cathedral Mystery

  1. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    There are many superlatives surrounding this dome — including the common assertion is that it set off (or marks the beginning of) the Renaissance. What seems undeniable is that it shouldn’t have been at all. Filippo Brunelleschi, the builder of the dome, was a complete novice. As one review at Amazon said:

    Largest masonry dome in the world was built some 600 years ago with over four million bricks and mortar, weighting over 40,000 ton by a goldsmith with no experience in architecture or construction next to creations of Leonardo da Vinci and Michael de Angelo where scientist are still trying to figure the secrets of the dome over five decades. Amazing to say the least.

    Not only that, he apparently didn’t have it all worked out in its entirely. He told the Florentine committee who eventually chose him that certain design and construction details he wouldn’t reveal because they were proprietary secrets. And certain things he couldn’t tell them because he admitted that more than a few things he would have to work out in the midst of construction.

    Why the committee gambled on Brunelleschi isn’t at all made clear in this video. Perhaps no one knows. And there is almost no record left of how he built the dome, although what is eventually presented in this video seems quite plausible. Brunelleschi, a secretive sort, likely destroyed his notes.

    Still, it’s one thing to merely think you know how to build a dome this large (and without scaffolding). It’s another thing to do it and to make it work on your first try. And consider it was the first effort by an inexperienced (in architecture) goldsmith — despite the fact that he had studied Roman architecture and had, one supposes, figured out how they did it. That’s all well and good. But given the complexity of the project, it would be like a man who had never made a boat before make his first marine project a nuclear submarine because he had spent some time visiting the naval yards.

    Brunelleschi was surely confident in his theory — enough so to convince the Florentine officials to let him loose even though Brunelleschi would not give them any significant details of his plan. It’s hard to watch this and not think that, on some level, there was a bit of divine intervention. It’s as if a Creator was thinking from above, “Come on, for god’s sake. Get on with it. Somebody build the church’s dome already.” The church had been sitting with a big hole in its roof for years because no one knew how to build a dome that big. And why the church was made to house a dome that nobody knew how to build is somewhat of a mystery as well.

    The idea of the mystery of the dome, and the brilliance of Brunelleschi, is somewhat marred by yet another non-fiction video that tries too hard to create mystery and to stretch out perhaps 30 minutes of material into 60 minutes. Do you remember the sort of stock footage Monty Python would use where they would cut to a small crowd who would yell in unison “Get on with it!” You may have this feeling while watching the video. Too much talking and not enough details. There were plenty of interesting bits they could have delved into but didn’t.

    Still, if you can find this to rent, it’s a great story.

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