La bóveda sexpartita del Monasterio de Santa María de Huerta, Soria_01 Print E-mail

The very rich cultural heritage of European Gothic architecture was brightly represented by the so called sexpartite vaults, period that was short but was extremely interesting. This type was first used in the last third of the 12th century and extended along the first third of the 13th century, so scarcely for sixty years. It is, taking into account the long tradition of European Gothic, a short but extraordinarily intense period. Though their origin is to be located within the Royal Domains of France, they can be found in almost every European country, from England to Poland. Their short existence and abrupt disappearance add an interesting nuance to this peculiar vault.

The sexpartite vault has a roughly square plan, generally of large dimensions, formed by the crossing of two diagonal arches and one more arch, parallel to the transverse arches, which divides in the centre the vault in two parts. Amid these ribs does the web expand which refills the six cells formed by the division of the vault's plan. The cross central arch divides in two fronts the vault's side walls and creates two windows on each side. The general shape of the resulting vault is extraordinarily complex since the four cells of the side webs form some forced conic surfaces which are very warped.

This type of vaults is present in the beginnings of Gothic in the central naves of big temples to replace the Romanesque barrel vaults. The square plan of the central sexpartite vault was completed by two also square cross ribbed vaults on each side of it. We are still wondering why Gothic architects stopped radically building this strange vault. Instead, they took to the big classical vault of rectangular plan (proportion 2:1, built with a simple cross of diagonal ribs).

Sexpartite vault was never used anymore. As for reasons of its disappearance, it may have been its excessively complex shape, which reminds us of a weird shellfish, with its windows partly hidden in its trumpets behind the diagonal arches. Or maybe the extreme height of the nave since the diagonal semi-circular arches lift up the central keystones and, therefore, raises the general height of the building. Another hypothesis proposed is the uneven transmission of the load to the floor due to the alternation between the corner pillars and the intermediate ones, under the cross arch, which bear less charge than the former ones. The truth is that this vault, around the middle of the 13th century, ceased to exist among the architectonic resources in European Gothic, after having been remarkably present in buildings so representative such as Paris' Notre Dame cathedral, the huge cathedral in Bourges, the very beautiful cathedral in Laon, or that in Sens and Dijon, among the most famous in France (Figs. 1-4). [....]

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