The flying buttress is a masonry arch extending off the outside of a building, often along the length of the nave of a cathedral, which transfers the thrust of the roof outwards and down to a pier. This architectural invention that allowed for the creation of the great soaring, light-filled, Gothic cathedrals of medieval Europe.
In “Art Through the Ages”, 12th edition, they describe the flying buttress as “like slender extended fingers holding up the walls, [and] are also important elements contributing to the distinctive ‘look’ of Gothic cathedrals.”
Flying buttresses on Westminster Abbey
1. Close-up of a flying buttress from the National Cathedral in Washington D.C.
2. Looking down the line of buttresses at the National Cathedral
3. Far view of the cathedral where you can see how the buttresses attach to the piers.