A pinnacle (from Latin pinnaculum, a little feather, pinna, compare panache) is an architectural ornament originally forming the cap or crown of a buttress or small turret, but afterwards used on parapets at the corners of towers and in many other situations. The pinnacle looks like a small spire. It was mainly used in Gothic architecture.
The pinnacle had two purposes:
1.Ornamental - adding to the loftiness and verticity of the structure. They sometimes ended with statues, such as in Milan Cathedral.
2.Structural - the pinnacles were very heavy and often rectified with lead, in order to enable the flying buttresses to contain the stress of the structure vaults and roof. This was done by adding compressive stress (a result of the pinnacle weight) to the thrust vector and thus shifting it downwards rather than sideway.
Some have stated that there were no pinnacles in the Romanesque style, but conical caps to circular buttresses, with finial terminations, are not uncommon in France at very early periods. Viollet-le-Duc gives examples from St Germer and St Remi, and there is one of similar form at the west front of Rochester Cathedral.
In the 12th-century Romanesque two examples have been cited, one from Bredon in Worcestershire, and the other from Cleeve in Gloucestershire. In these the buttresses run up, forming a sort of square turret, and crowned with a pyramidal cap, very much like those of the next period, the Early English.
In this and the following styles, and mainly in Gothic architecture, the pinnacle seems generally to have had its appropriate uses. It was a weight to counteract the thrust of the vaults, particularly where there were flying buttresses; it stopped the tendency to slip of the stone copings of the gables, and counterpoised the thrust of spires; it formed a pier to steady the elegant perforated parapets of later periods; and in France especially served to counterbalance the weight of overhanging corbel tables, huge gargoyles, etc.