Cathedral Architecture Question

So I’ve been thinking about Cathedrals and more in particular the architecture of Gothic Cathedrals. But I’m more interested in the why and perhaps the mechanics behind the how.

My question is why weren’t Cathedrals designed with 3 tiers?

Let me explain a bit further.

My ideal Cathedral as it appears in my brain is a cathedral with 3 platforms. So you go through the doors into the front of the cathedral and there is a long vestibule to a series of steps leading up to the 2nd tier which would have areas for choristers, etc which would be just as long as the first vestibule, then you would find at the end of this vestibule instead of the altar you would another wide set of stairs leading up to the 3rd and final tier which would have the high altar.

So let’s simplify my question.
Why weren’t cathedrals constructed with tiers leading up to higher up tiers?

Cathedral architecture was designed for both practical and theological purposes, theologically the idea was to have the lines of the cathedral point upwards (stained glass windows worked towards this also) in the idea of pointing the mind and thus the congregant towards heaven.

Wouldn’t my idea of tiered cathedrals accomplish this as well?

I thought most cathedrals had a raised chancel, at least. Are you asking why it isn’t much higher?

The standard arrangement seems to be a Narthex at the entrance, then the nave, where the people stand, a transept with an open space under the steeple, and the choir with the high altar at the end. As an architectural term “choir” remains distinct from the actual location of any singing choir and was seating for the assembled clergy.

Local conditions and available funds made differences but the Eat facing cross shape was pretty much standard. The masons who built them travelled across Europe plying their skills and learned as they went along. Flying buttresses, developed in France and raised to near perfection in England, allowed them to build higher and the design gradually improved from the substantial to the slender.

One church that more or less matches your ideal is Canterbury Cathedral. The need to preserve the earlier undercrofts, plus the wish to highlight the shrine of Thomas Becket, meant that there is a large flight of steps between the nave and the choir and then an even larger flight of steps between the choir and the Trinity Chapel. Moreover, there was a time when the high altar was located at the top of the second flight, just behind where the ‘Chair of St Augustine’ is now positioned.

Maybe they liked the nice echoes.

You read my mind, this is exactly what I was visualizing in my head in terms of “the ideal cathedral”. Never knew it had been done before but those pictures are exactly what I was envisioning and it looks just as grand as I thought it would

There may be a problem of sight lines. Suppose you’re watching a stage play; you’re seated in the front row, and the stage is raised above the level of your head. As actors move toward the back of the stage, you see less and less of them. Anything on the floor of the stage, or a table (or an altar) is blocked from your view.

Could be the same issue with a three-tier cathedral. The building itself may look suitably grand, but it may not be the best way to see the mass.

But of course there’s more than one theological perspective on this and, given diverse liturgical traditions, more than one set of practical considerations. The long nave is great for processions; not so good for letting everyone hear the preaching (before the development of electrical amplification). A greek cross floor plan puts the altar at the physical centre of the building, which may be theologically appropriate, and also keeps the congregation closer to the action than in a long narrow building, which may have practical advantages. Or, there may be advantages to having a building consisting of distinct spaces for different purposes - baptistry, areas for smaller or private devotions, etc so, again, a big long open space may not be optimal.

This is my thought too. The front row people should not be below floor level of the third tier or the altar, otherwise much of the ceremony will be hidden. It wears only use the 60’s before the ceremony was turned around - in the Middle Ages I think the priest faced the altar with his back to the people… So farther back on the “third tier”.

A raised stage beyond a certain point really only works with an amphitheatre sloped audience.

The history of the catheral would seem to say why
They started off as roman court rooms, a basilica was for a magistrate.

The basilica had an outdoor baptism area, this would have to be at ground level , so as to have the bath.

Now add to that the living quarters, which had to be separate, so that the celibate men did not have the women of the congregation near their door .

The living quarters were kind of bulky, so the public part of cathedral grew taller
so as to dominate over the residences. The growth was in the fancy architecture, which was so fancy the designs often had to be modified after construct was started and failed to be practical… To ask those designs to hold up significant internal floors is too much.

In modern times, there is of course no “must be” for why the cathedral had to be built with most public access, regular use areas on a single floor ; but a good reason is that the fancy higher parts take a long time to build, so the required areas , the ground floor , is constructed first… and become usable while construction goes on up above.

On the wall is a plaque saying ‘Thomas a Becket fell here’. Looking at all those steps, I’m not surprised.

I recall reading about one of the first “skyscrapers” (constructed with steel)… That prior to using steel, there was a height limitation to buildings. They could go so high with brick and mortar.