What is a Flying Buttress?
Welcome to Quatr.us Study Guides!

What's a flying buttress?

Flying buttress
Flying buttress (Rouen, 1200s AD)

In the 1100s AD, architects in northern France wanted to build big impressive Gothic cathedrals, and they wanted their cathedrals to be full of light, so they would be inspiring, not dark and depressing. But if the walls were mostly glass windows, how would they hold up the heavy stone roof?

Somebody (nobody knows who) invented the flying buttress. Instead of the buttress being stuck to the side of the building, it would form an arch leading away from the building.

The flying buttress would start from the places at the top of the wall where the groin vaults were directing the weight of the roof. From there, the flying buttresses would carry the weight of the roof away from the building and down a column of stone to the ground. It wouldn't matter what the walls were made of anymore, because they wouldn't be carrying the weight of the roof.

Flying buttresses rouen
More flying buttresses (Rouen 1200s AD)

Once architects began to use flying buttresses in their churches, they began to make more and more of the wall out of glass, and cathedrals looked lighter and more heavenly. They used flying buttresses at Notre Dame and the Sainte Chapelle in Paris, at Chartres, at Rouen, Reims, and Amiens cathedrals. Architects also used flying buttresses in England, at Westminster Abbey. The flying buttress did not catch on so much in Italy, where people liked their cathedrals to have a lot of stone and not so much glass.

Bibliography and further reading:

Arches to Zigzags: An Architecture ABC, by Michael J. Crosbie (2000). Shows what an arch is, or a gable, or an eave. For younger kids.

Eyewitness: Building, by Philip Wilkinson, Dave King, and Geoff Dann (2000). Lavishly illustrated, like other Eyewitness books for kids, and with good explanations of most architectural terms.

City: A Story of Roman Planning and Construction, by David Macaulay (1983).

More about buttresses
What's a groin vault?
What's a nave?
What's a transept?
What's a basilica?
What's a cathedral?
Romanesque architecture
Gothic architecture
Quatr.us home


Celebrating Black History Month with the pharaoh Hatshepsut, the queen Shanakdakhete, the poet Phillis Wheatley, the medical consultant Onesimus, the freedom fighters Toussaint L'Ouverture, Denmark Vesey, Yaa Asantewaa, and Samora Moises Machel, and the civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr.
Please help other teachers and students find us: link to this page from your class page.
Karen Carr is Associate Professor Emerita, Department of History, Portland State University. She holds a doctorate in Classical Art and Archaeology from the University of Michigan. Follow her on Instagram or Twitter.
Cite this page
  • Author: K.E. Carr
  • Title:
  • Site Name: Quatr.us Study Guides
  • Publisher: Quatr.us
  • Date Published:
Proud of your class page, homework page, or resource page? Send it in and win a Quatr.us "Great Page!" award!
Sign up for more free articles and special offers in Quatr.us' weekly newsletter:
We will never share your e-mail address unless you allow us to do so. View our privacy policy. Easy unsubscribe links are provided in every email.
Comment on This Article

Cool stuff we've been enjoying: Looking for birthday gifts? Check out these new Chromebooks - all the computer you need for only $229.00!. Then study in peace with these Beats wireless headphones - for the exact same price! When you're done, show off your presentation or watch a movie with this excellent smartphone projector for only $39.99!


Does your class page honor diversity, celebrate feminism, and support people of color, LBGTQ people, and people with disabilities? Let us know, and we'll send you a Diversity Banner you can proudly display!
Looking for more?
ADVERTISEMENT
Quatr.us is loading comments...
(Comments will appear after moderation, if they are kind and helpful. Feel free to ask questions, and we'll try to answer them.)
Cite this page
  • Carr, K.E. . Quatr.us Study Guides, . Web. 27 February, 2017
ADVERTISEMENT