Romanesque architecture

Romanesque architecture
Romanesque architecture is an architectural style of medieval Europe characterized
by semi-circular arches. There is no consensus for the beginning date of the
Romanesque style, with proposals ranging from the 6th to the 11th century, this later
date being the most commonly held. In the 12th century it developed into the Gothic
style, marked by pointed arches. Examples of Romanesque architecture can be found
across the continent, making it the first pan-European architectural style
since Imperial Roman architecture. The Romanesque style in England is traditionally
referred to as Norman architecture.

Maria Laach Abbey, Germany

Tum Collegiate Church, Poland

Lessay Abbey, Normandy, France.[Notes 1]

Combining features of ancient Roman and Byzantine buildings and other local
traditions, Romanesque architecture is known by its massive quality, thick walls,
round arches, sturdy pillars, barrel vaults, large towers and decorative arcading. Each
building has clearly defined forms, frequently of very regular, symmetrical plan; the
overall appearance is one of simplicity when compared with the Gothic buildings that
were to follow. The style can be identified right across Europe, despite regional
characteristics and different materials.

Many castles were built during this period, but they are greatly outnumbered by
churches. The most significant are the great abbey churches, many of which are still
standing, more or less complete and frequently in use.[1] The enormous quantity of
churches built in the Romanesque period was succeeded by the still busier period of
Gothic architecture, which partly or entirely rebuilt most Romanesque churches in
prosperous areas like England and Portugal. The largest groups of Romanesque
survivors are in areas that were less prosperous in subsequent periods, including
parts of southern France, rural Spain and rural Italy. Survivals of
unfortified Romanesque secular houses and palaces, and the domestic quarters of
monasteries are far rarer, but these used and adapted the features found in church
buildings, on a domestic scale.

What are the Main Characteristics of Early Romanesque
The fundamental emblematic structure of the Romanesque was the church.
Since churches were built to serve the specific requirements of the liturgy,
their construction changed as those needs changed. The relationship
between an architectural form and its meaning was reflected in the
arrangement of the internal areas of churches, which was based on the
complementary relationship between the plastic mass of the building and its
atmospheric mass. Romanesque architects re-used the rounded arches, wall
masses and barrel-vaults of the Romans, but they also introduced changes.
Indeed, while marked by a cruciform floor plan, the early Romanesque saw
the overcoming of Byzantine models and the abandonment of the formal
language of classical antiquity. The column was replaced by the pillar; spaces
previously left empty were filled with thick walls, forming compact masses
(compare Gothic style designs); and the elevation of walls was divided into
three or even four levels (arcade, gallery, triforium, and clerestory). The
major structural change, a result of advances in construction techniques, was
the progressive ability to cover churches with vaulted ceilings. The need to
enlarge the choir and to alter the arrangement of the presbytery – to allow
pilgrims to file past relics and other precious ecclesistical treasures – led to
revolutionary changes in the eastern ends of churches. The adoption of the
choir with ambulatory, in combination with the transept and the crossing
tower, led to a variety of spatial articulations. The achievement of visual,
perspective, and chiaroscuro effects in the interior resulted in the creation of
an articulated structure on the exterior, with varying combinations of
volumes decorated with stylistic elements from antiquity, such as pilaster
strips, hanging arches, and blind arcades.
The abbey of Cluny (begun 10th century), thanks to the compositional
innovation of a second transept to increase the church’s capacity, is the most
grandiose layout of all the Middle Ages. With a nave and doubled aisles and
an ambulatory choir with radiating chapels, a large narthex, and seven

towers, it is such a monumental structure that the involvement of the great
abbots, notably Peter the Venerable, was probably decisive in both its
planning and execution. Note: Founded in 909 by William Duke of Aquitaine,
the Cluniac order became well known for its artistic expression and kept up
to date on technical innovations in architectural design. The order saw the
liturgy as the focal point of monastic life and celebrated it with an
astonishing magnificence, making use of enlarged spaces for choral singing
and numerous altars for private masses.
What are the Main Design Features of the Mature Romanesque?
The Romanesque had reached maturity by the late 1060s. There was the
more or less total adoption of the vault covering, symbolic of the progress
made in construction techniques but also a deliberate stylistic choice, and
experiments were being made in certain constructive and formal aspects of
churches, such as systems for articulating the walls, which were still divided
in bays with an elevation on several levels. This articulation was no longer
applied exclusively to the nave but was being extended to all of the church,
to the walls of the transepts, the presbytery, the apses, even the exterior.
The changes in church architecture were related to precise figural purposes:
to welcome, shelter, and embrace the faithful in a setting both stately and
dignified, designed along perspective lines to give a sense of depth, all
culminating in the ambulatory apse. Church interiors were a complex and
densely moulded material characterized by strong chiaroscuro contrasts that
reinforced the plastic outlines of the columns and increased the sense of
layered atmospheric density and spatial depth. From the structural point of
view, this was made possible through the adoption of the system of bays
taken as spatial units; they were no longer divisions, marked off by
transverse arches, of a unitary space, but were rather spatial bodies that
were added one to the next, an addition of cells in a rigidly symmetrical
order. The isolated crossing had become a normal element that constituted
the fulcrum of the building, conferring order and measure. The wall itself
went through a transformation. It was now structured as a plastic mass that
could be disassembled and into which space could enter by way of openings
in its surface, sometimes creating internal galleries along which people could
move. By then, the pier had taken the place of the column almost
everywhere; in Italy, ornamentation and wall sculptures became more
common, but without suffocating the architectural function of the wall. Some
expressions of Romanesque architecture seem inseparable from their natural
Outstanding examples are the abbey of Mont-St-Michel in Normandy, (the
regional home of the Romanesque Bayeux Tapestry) suspended between
earth and water, the basilica of Sainte Foy at Conques, set atop a steep cliff
in the Auvergne, or the cathedral of Trani, Italy, overlooking the Adriatic, its
bell tower serving as a welcome beacon to sailors. The Cathedral of Santiago
de Compostela, the final goal of the pilgrimage routes to the tomb of the
apostle saint (St James), despite its monumental size, repeats in large part
the building models of the period: a basilica with a nave and two aisles with
galleries, transept, and choir with ambulatory. Because of the absence of

direct illumination of the nave, the enormous space is immersed in a halflight that brings out the severe articulation of the architecture. The choir
alone is crowned by windows, which cast an almost mystical illumination on
the tomb of St James.
Romanesque Architecture in Brief
Romanesque architects built a wide variety of different buildings, of which
the most common were: village churches, abbey churches, cathedrals and
castles. The most important were the great abbey churches, many of which
are in use. Typical characteristics of Romanesque architecture include:
• Semi-circular Arches
Most arches were semi-circular although a few buildings (Autun Cathedral,
France; Monreale Cathedral, Sicily) have pointed arches. Narrow
windows/doors might be topped by a stone lintel. Larger openings were
nearly always arched.
• Thick Walls
These massive supporting walls had few and comparatively small openings
and almost eliminated the need for buttresses.
• Arcades
These were a particularly popular feature. Note: an arcade consists of a row
of arches, supported on either columns or piers. Columns were either drum
columns (if small) or hollow core (if large). Piers were typically built out of
masonry and were either square or rectangular. Capitals on columns were
usually of the foliate Corinthian style.
• Roofs
These were made from wood, then stone. Vaulted roofs generally featured
barrel-vaults and groin vaults made of stone or brick. Eventually, these
evolved into the pointed ribbed arch used in Gothic architecture.
• Towers
These were a regular feature of Romanesque churches. Types included:
square, circular and octagonal towers.
History (Brief Outline)
Pre-Romanesque architecture was the house style of King Charlemagne,
ruler of the Franks (768-814). Following his coronation by Pope Leo III as
the first Holy Roman Emperor, Romanesque architecture spread throughout
his empire, which included much of France, the Low Countries, Germany,
Northern Italy and parts of Spain, as well as Britain and Scandinavia.
Supported also by the Ottonian Emperors during the 10th century, the
Romanesque style was also embraced by the powerful Cluniac order, as
exemplified by its headquarters at the Abbey of Cluny, in France, and by its
magnificent pilgrimage churches of St Martin at Tours, St Sernin at Toulouse,
and the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, in Galicia, Spain.

By the tenth century, the period of great invasions which had continually
threatened the West for the past seven centuries had just come to a close,
and religious building was about to reach perfection. From now on, the tenth
century, though still troubled, became a great period for construction.
Structures which had been burnt or demolished by the Normans were
speedily rebuilt. An entirely new taste evolved, a point of departure towards
a fresh, logical kind of art: using fine stone, decoration stemming from basic
features, such as door-jambs, and colour obtained not from inset bricks but
from projecting string-courses opposing black and white and so bringing
black walls to life. Apart from the solution to the problem of vaulting, all the
ingredients of the later Romanesque style were already apparent in these
The second half of the century witnessed an artistic revival instigated by
Emperor Otto and his sons. (See also: Ottonian Art c.900-1050) As we shall
see, architecture played a vital part in this, distinguished by the continuance
of Early Christian and Carolingian formulas. Some of the noteworthy
innovations of this period, including the siting of a transept organically linked
to the other limbs of the building, lead directly to the cruciform Romanesque
plan, the basic core of its finest developments. By the mid-970s the routes
across the Alps were finally cleared of brigands and the way was reopened
for exchanges between Italy, France and the German lands. There is a
definite connexion between the easing of this situation and the migrations of
craftsmen from Como who, with an extraordinary aptitude for expansion,
conveyed their obscurely elabourated building techniques through the valleys
and over the Alpine passes to distant countries.
Church Versus State
In 962, Emperor Otto I, then at the height of his political power, followed the
example of Charlemagne and received the imperial crown from the hands of
the Pope in Rome. The purpose of this act was not only to set a seal on the
agreement emphasizing that the Papacy was dependent on the Empire. The
Emperor was claiming the foundation of a stable order based on the Christian
faith, and he well knew that no one in the West would contest this privilege
with him. To the German Emperor all dreams of a hegemony seemed
permissible, and architecture was the foremost of the arts to bear witness to
the imperial splendour.
Just as Charlemagne had done before him, Otto turned to Constantinople,
marrying his son to the daughter of Emperor John Tzimisces. Under his
grandson, Otto III, the Empire was enriched by an ascendancy which
benefited the whole of Europe. Between the Emperor, known to posterity by
the strange and untranslatable title of ‘mirabilia mundi,’ and Gerbert of
Aurillac, who became Pope Sylvester II in 999, there existed a bond of souls.
This was the majesty of the Pax Romana without recourse to arms. Otto died
prematurely in 1002, and his death marked a fault in the political

development of Europe. Before the end of the century his Utopian coalition
was to be brutally shattered against the rock of Canossa.
The entire situation changed. In the eleventh century the Papacy was no
longer weak and docile as it had been in the previous century. Hildebrand
succeeded to the throne of St Peter, as Gregory VII, in 1073. Born a Tuscan
peasant he had taken his vows in the Benedictine monastery of St Mary on
the Aventine, became chaplain to Pope Gregory VI and then a monk at Cluny
where he had contact with Abbot Odilo and Grand Prior Hugh. Subsequently
he was made a cardinal, became adviser to Leo IX, and legate in France and
Germany. By his fearless attitude he roused the anger of the German king,
Henry IV, who coldly deposed him at Worms with the aid of a council loyal to
his interests. Gregory’s reply was to absolve Henry’s German subjects from
all obligations to their sovereign. Their stern reconciliation at Canossa which symbolized the submission of secular power to the Papacy – was only
temporary and the return to antagonism lasted until the hard won Concordat
of Worms in 1122.
The Cluniac Order: A Force Behind Romanesque Civilization
The dramatic repercussions of this antagonism were confined to the two
protagonists – Germany vacillating between the Pope and the Emperor, and
papal Italy. The whole of Europe, however, suffered from this surge of
trouble. Apart from equivocal supporters and secret opportunists the Holy
See at least had the ever loyal support of the strength of Cluny brought to its
zenith by a century and a half of progress. By the express desire of its
founder, Duke William of Aquitaine, the small community on the banks of the
Grosne was recognized as a direct possession of St Peter under whose
patronage the Duke had purposely placed it. It continued to be granted
exemption by the Popes with the result that its expansion was based on a
jealously maintained independence of the local temporal and spiritual
powers. The eminent Abbots of Cluny, Odo, Aimard, and Mayeul, set about
transforming their humble monastery into a powerful influence and initiating
a much needed reform of the Church and its morals. Bound by affection and
a mutual deference to the rulers of Germany, Mayeul and his successor, St
Odilo of Mercoeur, acclaimed their consecration as Emperors, and Hugh of
Semur who followed Odilo in 1049 was Henry IV’s sponsor. The subsequent
struggle between the German king and Gregory VII put him in an
embarrassing and uncomfortable position. At Canossa he wholeheartedly
interceded for the penitent king, but he was, and continued to be, on the
Pope’s side. When, a few years later, Gregory, in order to repay the Abbot
for his loyalty, publicly praised the abbey of Cluny he was only reaffirming
what was well known already. Though formerly uninfluential, the protection
of the reaffirmed papacy was a powerful aid to the consolidation of the
vigour of Cluny which simultaneously made a return offering of its prestige
and vast resources. The Popes strengthened the abbey with privileges and
guarantees extending to the entire Congregation together with its priories
Gregory VII never renounced his role of Cluniac monk even when he
succeeded as supreme head of the Church, and Popes Urban II and Pascal II

who followed him were also Cluniacs. Pope Gelasius II who had been forcibly
expelled from Rome by Henry IV came to die at Cluny in 1119, and his
successor, Calixtus I, was elected there.
When, after the death of Honorius II, the Pierleoni faction set up the antipope Anacletus II in opposition to the newly elected Innocent II, the Cluny
Abbot Peter the Venerable, unlike the vacillating Bernard of Clairvaux,
immediately declared for Innocent, received him and give him
encouragement. It is no exaggeration that, from 1049 until the end of the
schism in 1138, the fortunes of the Roman church could be identified with
those of Cluny.
Eleventh Century: Highpoint of Romanesque Architecture
Romanesque architecture reached its zenith in the eleventh century hinging
on the year 1095 when Urban II proclaimed the Crusade, and it would be
pointless to ask what this medieval civilization would have been without
Cluny. However, we should recall that, besides the great abbey church built
by St Hugh, many of its outstanding masterpieces were also Cluniac
properties or foundations. In Burgundy the list includes Vezelay rebuilt by
Renaud of Semur, the grand-nephew of St Hugh, Paray-le-Monial, and StGermain at Auxerre; in French-speaking Switzerland, Payerne and
Romainmotier; in Nivernais, St Etienne at Nevers, La-Charite-sur-Loire, and
Saint-Reverien; in Bourbonnais, Souvigny, and Chatel-Montagne; in
Provence, Saint-Marcel-les-Sauzet, and Ganagobie; in Roussillon, Arles-surTech; in Languedoc, Saint-Gilles-du-Gard, Morlaas, Moissac, Figeac,
Marcilhac, Carennac, and Beaulieu; in Auvergne, Saint-Geraud at Aurillac,
and Mozat; in Limousin, Saint-Martial, Chambon, La Souterraine, and
Uzerche; in Saintonge, Saint-Eutrope; in Poitou, Montierneuf; in the Ile-deFrance, Longpont, and Saint-Leu-d’Esserent; in England, Lewes; in Spain,
Fromista. These names are chosen at random from among the astonishing
list of Cluniac buildings surveyed by Dr Joan Evans. Above all they bear
witness to the eclecticism of Cluny which never imposed itself as a prototype
on any of its daughter foundations and, despite the organic centralization
favoured by Abbots Odilo and Hugh, allowed individual regional tastes free
Asceticism and Its Effects on Architecture
This flexible independence did not survive the decline of the Cluniacs. With
the early years of the twelfth century the Cistercians and, to a lesser extent,
the Cartusians took up the position formerly held by Cluny in religious
affairs. The original asceticism of the Carthusians, the austerity enjoined on
the Cistercians by St Bernard, and the evolution of history itself, now
determined the prototypes to which builders throughout Christendom had to
refer. The creation of the military orders also reinforced this ascetic approach
to religion. The conventual churches of the Templars and Hospitalers were
not outstanding for their size or fine architecture, most of them being plain,
small-scale buildings. This aspiration to poverty, a reaction against the
excessive luxury of the Church, even extended to Peter the Venerable,
despite his artistic heritage. Very significantly it also agrees with the opinions

expressed by Peter Abelard in the directives which he wrote to Heloise. In
fact, it was the aspiration of all the monastic reformers of the late eleventh
century and, moreover, coincided with the movement in Islam which just as
firmly repudiated the rich decorations and facings of the mosques of Spain
and the Maghreb. Thus it is not out of place at this point to draw attention to
the fact that one of the earliest examples of this change in architectural style
is to be found in Aragon, a region which had contacts with both Christian and
Moslem civilization. In the late eleventh century the royal Augustinian
foundation of Siresa hidden in one of the valleys of the Pyrenees chose a
completely austere approach which was strictly opposed to all ornamental or
figurative experiments.
Throughout the eleventh and twelfth centuries, rival religious houses
continued to be constituted, and abbey charters other than those of Cluny
bear witness to the foundation of country priories devoted to cultivation of
the land. The great trade routes were reopened with a lively increase in
traffic across the Alps now freed from local raiders; merchants from
Flanders, the Rhineland, and the cities of Lombardy mingled with soldiers in
the field, abbots on their missions, and pilgrims on their way to Rome.
Suburbs with shops sprang up around abbeys sited near city gates, and an
invigorating taste for adventure succeeded the heavy social inertia of the
tenth century. Undoubtedly one of the most striking expressions of this mood
was the development of pilgrimages.
In fact, these had never completely ceased. Even during the most troubled
years of the ninth and tenth centuries, bold spirits kindled with enthusiasm
and braved every kind of danger to embrace the rock of Calvary and kiss the
tombs of the apostles. With the eleventh century, however, began a troubled
period which once more disproved the theory of a new dawn about to break.
The mad Caliph, Hakim, sacked and destroyed the Latin foundations and,
afterwards, the Byzantine Emperors took the place of those of the West in
the task of restoring and safeguarding the Holy Places. Roman Christendom,
however, was tortured by remorse and filled with desire to regain the tomb
of Christ even more than the pilgrimage road which had never been
completely cut even at the period of the worst setbacks. When the Cluniac
Pope, Urban II, proclaimed the Crusade at Clermont-Ferrand, he roused an
indescribable enthusiasm which showed that the time was ripe.
The results of his expedition, the conquest of Palestine and the establishment
of the Latin kingdom were manifold. In the field of architecture, the building
of the Romanesque Church of the Holy Sepulchre was an outward sign both
of the power and love of the Crusaders. The principle of the orientation of
churches was so strongly ingrained in this generation sated with symbolism
that, even in the hard-won city of Jerusalem, the new shrine had its chevet
at the east end like any other church. To Constantine’s rotunda which had
last been reconstructed to the orders of Emperor Constantine Monomachos in
1045 was added a compact, cruciform design with a wide projecting transept
and a semicircular choir surrounded by an ambulatory with three radiating
chapels. On the south is a double entrance door between the belfry on the

left and the square Calvary Chapel on the right. The building was
consecrated in 1149 and offers a combination of styles inherited from East
and West, including motifs from Poitou, Burgundy and Languedoc. There is
even a rib vault over the transepts.
This impressive building dominated a vast development program of
churches, monasteries, commanderies, and hospices balancing the securing
of the frontier defences by the huge fortresses of Beaufort, Margat, and Krak
des Chevaliers. These cyclopean buildings with their formidable roughstone
walls covered with mason’s marks and their moats hollowed out of the rock
are, in fact, the forerunners of modern concrete shelters and emanate the
same feeling of stifling oppression. This large-scale undertaking introduced
western building methods to the East while, simultaneously, the sight of the
fabulous treasures of Constantinople kindled fresh flames in the ever lively
imaginations of Christian builders.
The same overflow of abundant energy, at a somewhat more realistic level,
brought about the twofold conquest of England and Southern Italy by the
Normans less than two hundred years after their establishment in 911. They
introduced their great timber-roofed churches with hollow walls and lantern
towers to Britain and, between 1066 and 1189, built no fewer than twelve
hundred castles which gradually benefited from lessons learned by military
architects in the preparations of the defences of the Holy Land; the ruins of
many of these may be seen today throughout England and Wales. In their
Mediterranean territories, at Monreale, Palermo, and Cefalu, they produced
the most amazing blends of Arab, Byzantine, and Nordic influences to be
found in the Romanesque world.
The two other major pilgrimages to Rome and Santiago de Compostela were
somewhat less dangerous than that to the Holy Land and, from the tenth to
the twelfth century, were almost equally popular. The restoration work on
the route undertaken by King Alfonso V in the early years of the eleventh
century coincided with the progress of the spread of the Gospel among the
Basques who soon freed the western passes of the Pyrenees. The stubborn
forcing back of the Arabs crowned by the conquest of the Rioja enabled
Alfonso VI of Castille to pursue the systematic organization of the fine road
which soon received the title of ‘camino.’ This great work involved the
building of several bridges and showed that, contrary to what has often been
supposed, the Romanesque genius did not scorn material aids to achieve
versatility. The power of Cluny came to the aid of the undertaking, made
itself felt throughout the road’s dangerous length, and effectively lent its
support. The movement of countless pilgrims across the lands of
Christendom, ships going to and fro across the sea beneath the equivocal
sign of the Cross, treasures scattered, like the gifts of the Magi, round the
slabs on which rest the witnesses of Christ, hymns and songs enfolding the
marchers – all this ferment lies at the very heart of Romanesque civilization.
Classification of Romanesque Architecture
The eminent archeologist Pierre Lavedan classified Romanesque architecture
according to the vaulting system adopted in the main nave. He distinguishes

three groups: (1) churches with tunnel or groined vaults without galleries
over the aisles; (2) churches with tunnel or groined vaults with galleries over
the aisles; and (3) churches vaulted with a series of domes. The first
category includes Burgundy, Poitou and Provence; the second comprises the
fine series of churches in the region of Clermont-Ferrand and the group
known as churches of the pilgrimage roads; and the third besides the
compact group of domed churches in Angoumois, Perigord and Quercy, three
separate buildings which seem to have little connexion with one another or
their surroundings: St Hilaire at Poitiers, Solignac, and the cathedral at Le
This classification at least has the advantage of being original. Cleverly
avoiding previous theories, it acknowledges the basic preoccupation of the
Romanesque builders – the search for a vaulting system which maintained an
even balance, and takes note of the varied solutions proposed. From time to
time, churches of timber construction were destroyed by great fires and this
encouraged their builders to use stone instead of inflammable materials.
Stone vaults also lent an interior far greater dignity, unity and structural
solidity than could be obtained from timber vaults or flat ceilings. To limit the
field of Romanesque expansion to vaulted churches is, however, too severe a
restriction and involves the entire elimination of Scandinavia. The timberroofed naves of the eleventh and twelfth centuries do not indicate the
survival of an outdated tradition in church building; they pursue and develop
individual constructional experiments in the fields of rhythmic elevation and
the division of masses which are no less revolutionary than the vaults
devised by Romanesque architects.
The Pilgrimage Churches
Some architects and archeologists have identified a separate school known
as ‘the churches of the pilgrimage roads’. This includes only three surviving
buildings: the abbey church of Conques, the church of St Sernin at Toulouse,
and the cathedral of Compostela. There were also, however, two churches
now destroyed: the pilgrimage shrine of St Martin at Tours and the abbey
church of St Martial at Limoges. The building of these five churches extended
over the whole of the eleventh century and carried on into the next,
maintaining remarkable fidelity to the original conception. This was on a
generous scale to allow for the handling of large crowds; chevets were
prominently developed and allowance was made for movement around the
high altar; both transepts and naves were flanked by aisles, and above these
were quadrant vaulted galleries with twin arches opening on to the nave. The
spread of this formula resulted in some striking buildings elsewhere,
including St Remy at Rheims, Saint-Sauveur at Figeac, and churches at
Marcilhac and St Gaudens. Connexions may also be noted with the great
Romanesque churches of Lower Auvergne, and the harmonious ternary
rhythm of St Etienne at Nevers plainly seems to derive from it.
Churches With Domes
There also arose a simultaneous belief that it was possible to solve another
riddle of Romanesque architecture which had formed a stumbling block in the

classification of provincial schools, by recourse to the theory of roads.
Aquitaine possesses a magnificent group of churches spread out across
Angoumois, Saintonge, Perigord, Quercy and the Limousin, which are vaulted
with a series of domes. These roof choir, nave and transepts, as well as the
crossing. This arrangement results in a startling monumental effect
completely different to the narrow divisions formed by the more usual
vaulted naves: it expands the interior space to the greatest possible extent
and the resulting plan is defined by a succession of perfect squares
penetrated by waves of light and providing total visibility as there are no
interior pillars. There is a rhythmic sense of movement from bay to bay
which seems to be inspired by the swelling domes. The outer areas are only
fully developed in the chevets with their small radiating apses. In periods of
insecurity such as the crusade against the Albigensians and the Hundred
Years’ War, these buildings were easily adaptable for defence purposes.
These churches may have derived from Christian Byzantine art, but their
grouping and distribution remain subjects of discussion. In drawing up a
survey of these domed churches, it has lately been noted that they are
scattered along the Roman road which led from Rodez to Cahors and thence
to Saintes by way of Perigueux and Angouleme, and was still in use during
the Romanesque period. Why, however, out of all the great roads crossing
medieval France used alike by pilgrims and business traffic, should this have
been the only one to produce a vigorously defined architectural formula?
Why did the extension of this type towards the east die out on the first
slopes of the Massif Central, when the distance between Rodez and
Auvergne, the Velay and the Mediterranean regions is really no more than
that covered by the western section of the old road? This theory of the road
is no more than approximate and does not explain the most distant
manifestations of the style, lost amid many other forms, at St Hilaire in
Poitiers, the abbey church of Fontevrault in Touraine, and the cathedral of Le
Lost Splendours
Originally the great Romanesque churches glowed with rich materials,
gilding, colour and light. Their architecture reigned supreme; stone
sculpturesurrounding their doors were subservient to it. The interiors of
some of the churches were entirely covered with mural paintings, the most
famous example being Saint-Savin-sur-Gartempe where the section of the
vault over the main nave was modified as work proceeded. Recent
restoration at the pilgrimage church of Saint-Julien at Brioude has revealed
traces of strong toned colours and bold marbling effects on the pillars. There
seems to have been a special liking for such magnificently coloured buildings
throughout Poitou, Touraine and Anjou, but the washed-out, velvety tones
we now see are no more than approximations of the originals. In these
regions, the extraordinary richness and liveliness of the wall paintings does
not appear to be, as elsewhere, a convenient substitute for the lost art of
mosaic, but a technique in its own right, accomplished, highly inventive and
conforming to its own individual laws.

The lack of local workshops with suitable qualifications often caused the
replacement of large painted compositions by mere semblances of
decoration. This uniformity was crowned, however, by the highlights of
painted decoration applied to capitals and tympana, and extending to the
triumphal representations of Christ in majesty surrounded by the symbols of
the Evangelists in the apses. In odd corners of the church on free spaces of
wall specially prepared at eye level, some imaginative artist would portray a
patron saint or some edifying scene whose unexpected appearance disrupted
the symmetry of the walls. This contributed to the flexible expansion of free,
spontaneous life which enhanced the medieval churches and prevented them
from becoming stereotyped and monotonous.
An atmosphere of light and glowing colour seems to have been one of the
basic spiritual needs of the Romanesque. Peter the Venerable, known for his
detachment and his desire to restrict the Cluniac order to a life of asceticism,
once alluded to the impression made on him by the paintings of a Cluniac
chapel, “by far the most beautiful of all churches in Burgundy.”
This sense of delight included objets d’art, especially goldsmiths’ work which
was considered vital to architecture and enhanced its effect. Altars, canopies,
chandeliers and lights were encrusted with gold, silver, enamel and precious
stones. The miraculously preserved treasury of the abbey of Conques gives
us some idea of the attraction of such riches. Conques was not the only
abbey in a position to embellish its magnificent church with
precious crafts and ornaments. Every monastery, cathedral and pilgrimage
shrine felt obliged to collect and nurture a treasury which could be an
outward sign of its fame. In matters of Romanesque archeology it is always
essential to refer back to Cluny: here, an inventory of relics, jewellery,
liturgical ornaments and illuminated manuscripts, taken in 1304, listed no
fewer than 225 items, most of which probably date back to the Romanesque
Architects or Masons?
Is it true that Romanesque buildings were the work of labourers possessed of
talent but collectively anonymous, and without any pretensions to
individuality, whereas Gothic architecture witnessed the revival of the master
architect who was creator of the design and supreme head of the workshop.
Until quite recently, Romanesque was held to be an art of masons, but
contemporary judgment is fairer.
There is no doubt that Romanesque architects had little mathematical
knowledge, but this was compensated by an acquired skill which, in its sheer
boldness, sometimes recalls that of modern architects working with
reinforced concrete. They were not trained engineers, but practical men
sprung from the soil and attuned to its rhythms and its powerful empiricism.
As has often been noted, to achieve the cross they used simple geometrical
shapes: squares, rectangles, circles and semi-circles, renouncing the elegant
but exaggerated forms of the Arab and Mozarabic styles. They made precise
enlargements and adjustments with the help of symbolic combinations of
figures that had been known since antiquity, though extreme caution should

be exercised in checking, these on the ground today. It is fairly safe to say
that Romanesque architects, like all really inspired creators, were capable of
visualizing their finished buildings from the moment of their foundations
being laid; they projected and outlined designs which clung to the soil and
perfected the landscape. They did not hesitate to remodel and revise their
plans as they worked, sometimes demolishing what they had already built if
they thought the results would benefit the overall composition.
They were servants rather than masters of their designs and maintained the
right to make changes up to the completion of the work. Thus, in the early
twelfth century, the choir of the Cluniac priory church of La Charite-sur-Loire
was demolished, even though the preliminary work had only just been
completed, and rebuilt on a grander scale, possibly because it had been
considered too small for the importance of a church which attracted so many
pilgrims. At Saint-Savin-sur-Gartempe there was a still more spectacular
piece of unforeseen reconstruction. Here the architect had visualized a nave
with a tunnel vault supported on transverse arches, and the first three
western bays were erected on these lines. The work of the fresco painter,
however, seemed so promising that the chief architect apparently gave way
to him and abolished all the other arches planned so that the artist could use
the resulting vast expanse of wall.
Leaving aside for the moment the enormous Rhenish cathedrals and the
principal pilgrimage churches which excite so much admiration today, there
are many well-known buildings of secondary importance which have so much
individuality that it is almost impossible to deny the hand of an undisputed
master architect. To take a single example from the countless ones
available: the choir of the church of Chateau-Meillant in Berry. This does its
anonymous builder great credit with its striking array of seven apses and its
airy combinations of twin pierced arches supported on slim columns so that
they communicate with one another. To take a more famous example, the
cloister at Moissac with its assured composition, its harmonious succession of
slim single and double columns, and its sequence of identical splayed
capitals, denotes first and foremost the proved skill of a talented yet modest
architect who did not see fit to leave his name to posterity on the inscription
commemorating the actual building.
Benedictine Abbey Church, Charroux
Tragically, we cannot attach any architect’s name to the amazing abbey
church of Charroux in Poitou. Before its wanton destruction, this must have
been one of the most perfect and original of all Romanesque achievements.
The Benedictine abbey of Charroux was founded in the second half of the
eighth century and became famous on account of the council which was held
there in 989 in an attempt to bring about the Peace of God. It also possessed
a treasury of holy relics some of which had actually been handled by Christ.
To house these and present them with due solemnity to worshipping
pilgrims, an exceptionally ambitious building program was devised, involving
an audacious blend of the two seemingly incompatible plans inherited by the
Romanesque world: the cruciform basilica and the rotunda. So far, these two
traditional designs had either been treated separately or simply juxtaposed.

It was left to the unknown architect of Charroux in the first third of the
eleventh century to realize their organic combination by inserting a vast
rotunda in the heart of his building, at the crossing. Here there was a central
space from which pilgrims could look down on the relics in the crypt; this
was bounded by eight four-lobed pillars and extended by a triple ambulatory
which decreased in height. Wide transepts with small apses on their eastern
sides projected to north and south, and a semi-circular chevet, probably with
small radiating apses, prolonged the rotunda to the east. Worshippers
entering the nave must have been struck by the immense height of the
crossing which was filled with light penetrating through the numerous bays.
A double system of superimposed arches surrounded the central space with
its raised altar, the lower ones acting as supports. At ground level the plan
was circular, but higher up became octagonal to receive the segments of the
lofty tunnel vaults over the first of the ambulatories. Unfortunately, all that
survives of this impressive and unique building is the lantern-tower
dominating the squat roofs of the now small, sleepy town.
Romanesque Builders
With some exceptions, the names and functions of most of the key builders
of the Romanesque era – architects, designers, stone masons and the like are unknown to us. We do know, however, that monasteries were the driving
force behind much of the building. Guided by their great abbots, these
ancient monasteries – which had desperately tried to maintain civilized life
within their walls during the dark ages – were among the first to be inspired
by the cultural and architectural revival that was the Romanesque. Almost
every monastery from Agaune and Payerne to Tournus, Jumieges, Tours,
Saintes and Conques was turned into a vast workshop evolving bold
experiments. Fertilization of the soil, mutual exchanges and enlarged
domains continually increased their resources. Disregarding cost, they spent
vast sums on the building of churches that were quite out of proportion to
their real needs, but considered that these supreme luxuries were offerings
to God rather than themselves. They caused valuable materials to be
brought great distances. (See also:
Identifying the functions of individuals, however, is no easy matter. First it is
necessary to distinguish between the administrator of the works and the
technician responsible for the direction of the workshop, and the teams of
quarrymen, builders and decorators. The Chronicle of St Benigne which
describes the rebuilding of the Benedictine abbey church at Dijon shortly
after 1100 is most illuminating on this point. It shows that the direction of
the undertaking was divided between two authorities. The Bishop of Langres,
who initiated the restoration of the ancient monastery, was in charge of the
financial administration, and organized the transport of materials to the site.
To Abbot William fell the twofold task of “specifying the work itself” and
“directing the labourers.”
Second, just because a name is carved onto a stone, it doesn’t necessarily
mean that the person concerned had a significant role in the building work.
Many Romanesque capitals in Spain, Italy and France bear signatures, but
many of these unexplained names raise inexplicable problems. On the

doorway of the cathedral at Ferrara, for instance, may be found the
signature of Master Nicolo, one of the first identified sculptors of
Romanesque Italy. His work shows Byzantine influence, but his individual
talent endows his carvings with dramatic realism. He may have been
responsible for the fine reliefs on the fagade of San Zeno at Verona, but his
identification with the Nicolo who, in 1135, signed a capital in the Sacra di
San Michele in Piedmont is by no means certain.
The most famous signature in Romanesque art was undoubtedly:
“Gislebertus hoc fecit” (Gislebertus made this). This is proudly placed at the
feet of the figure of Christ in the Last Judgment set above the west door of
the Cathedral of St Lazare at Autun. Gislebertus was a very common name
during this period and contemporary texts quote several in southern
Burgundy alone. This one is usually regarded as Gislebertus (active 1st half
12th century) the gifted sculptor of the composition above the west door and
of the greater proportion of the interior’s highly individual capitals. The
sculptor has even been called the Cezanne of the Romanesque, an attractive,
though dangerously equivocal idea. Whereas Cezanne, at the heart of the
Impressionist revival, opened the way to the development of contemporary
painting, Gislebertus, in 1130, witnessed the last rays of Romanesque
supremacy; moreover, behind him, was the overwhelming weight of the
inheritance of Cluny from which he never dared to completely free himself
Other Famous Medieval Sculptors
Master of Cabestany (12th century)
Master Mateo (12th century)
Benedetto Antelami (active 1178-1196)
Nicola Pisano (c.1206-1278)
Giovanni Pisano (c.1250-1314)
Arnolfo di Cambio (c.1240–1310)
The Abbey Church of Cluny
Throughout the eleventh century the liturgical life of the great abbey of
Cluny unfolded against the background of the church begun by Abbot
Aymard, probably after 948, and consecrated during the period of office of
Abbot Mayeul in 981. This building, dating from the very end of the preRomanesque period, was certainly important even though by no means a
masterpiece. Basilican in plan, its nave of seven bays was unvaulted, flanked
by aisles, and cut by a narrow transept which projected widely from the body
of the church, each arm ending in a small semicircular apse. The deep-set
choir had pillars and a semi-circular apse flanked by two small apses which
protruded from the straight walls. Between the choir aisles which gave
access to these chapels and the small apses at the ends of the transepts
were inserted two long rectangular rooms divided by interior partitions and
linked by narrow passages either with the transepts or the sanctuary. The
composition freely developed the monumental plan of graded apses, known
as Benedictine on account of its frequent, though not exclusive, use by this
order. Romanesque architects derived some fine effects from it. The nave at
Cluny was preceded by a narthex or galilee which heralded the beautiful

closed porches flanked by towers which were the work of the following
Building was resumed by Abbot Odilo who did not limit his activity to Cluny
but devoted himself to many churches elsewhere, including Payerne,
Charlieu, Ambierle-en-Forez, Ris and Sauxillanges in Auvergne, Souvigny,
Saint-Saturnin-du-Port in Provence, and Lavoute-sur-Allier which he founded
on one of his own estates and later became the starting point of one of the
routes to Santiago. At Cluny he devoted his final years to the building of a
beautiful cloister, but first restored all the interiors, except for the walls of
the church: it is thought that he had a stone vault constructed, replacing the
timber roof.
This church, a little less than 150 feet long, was sufficient for the needs of a
medium sized community. The continual growth in number of the brethren in
the course of the eleventh century rendered it too small, however, and Abbot
Hugh of Semur was forced to envisage not merely rebuilding and extension,
but the construction on the grounds to the north, of an abbey church
surpassing all those of Western Christendom in size. A heavy annual tribute
drawn from the kings of Spain assured the financing of the undertaking
conceived as the outward manifestation of the power of the head of the
order. The design of the new church with its nave of eleven bays flanked by
double aisles to balance its length, its two transepts and ambulatory with
small radiating apses was so magnificent as to earn it the name of ‘the
angel’s walk.’ Decorated with sculptures, mosaics and murals, and envied by
all Christianity, St Hugh’s abbey church was to remain the pride of the
Cluniac order for seven hundred years.
The Cathedral of Compostela
A short time before, in the eleventh century, the cathedral of Compostela
was enlarged as the result of a threefold collaboration. Bishop Diego Pelaez
who occupied the see from 1070 to 1088 decided to rebuild the basilica
commissioned by Alfonso the Great in the late ninth century, devasted by the
raider Almanzor and restored by Alfonso V. The general direction of the work
was entrusted to qualified representatives of the cathedral chapter, one of
whom, Bernard, known as the Old, was responsible for the plan. According to
the ‘Pilgrims’ Guide’ which has left us a valuable description of the great
cathedral, he was assisted by a deputy named Robert and about fifty stonecutters. The guide describes him as a stonemason; it also calls him ‘domnus,’
which leads to the belief that he may have been a clerk, many of whom, in
the opinion of archeologists, were of French origin. Certainly the name
Bernard is not a familiar one in the Spanish language. Others identify him
with the Bernard who was treasurer of the chapter and was responsible for
the monumental fountain which greeted pilgrims from France on the square
to the north of the basilica. However this may be, he was possessed of a
lively, eclectic talent and worked on the churches of St Martial at Limoges,
Sainte-Foy at Conques and St Sernin at Toulouse. Master Stephen also
worked on the site at Santiago with such excellent results that, in 1101, he
was requested to provide plans for the cathedral at Pampeluna.

Similar organization was favoured for the building of the fine Cluniac priory
at Montierneuf at Poiters. Under the command of Prior Guy, who was the
nephew of St Hugh and may well have modelled himself on his uncle as
patron and builder, the work was directed by a monk named Ponce, assisted
by Mainard, a master-mason or stone-cutter. This building was not begun
until 1077, but the church was either finished or very near completion on its
consecration less than twenty years later in 1096.
An Architecture to Defend Against War and Calamity
Romanesque buildings may be on a grand or intimate scale, of expert or
crude construction, fashioned either of well joined blocks or of common
pebbles sunk in mortar, They range from lordly abbeys or Norman castles
silhouetted against the sky, to simple rustic sanctuaries conceived as
separate entities. In all these cases, Romanesque architecture avoided the
monotonous standardization of imperial Roman architecture, from which it
claimed descent and which had spread across the world. The precarious
background to existence, including war, famine and epidemics, and the
ascendency of the feudal lords were enough to explain the almost complete
absence of any preoccupation with large-scale town-planning comparable to
the majestic schemes handed down by the ancient civilizations of East and
West. In these disturbed times every inhabited area had first to be a defence
and refuge.
In the Romanesque world there were no longer any triumphal ways bordered
by tombs, sumptuous buildings, or arches to delight vain conquerors. It was
not until the decline of Romanesque civilization that new cities were created,
and rediscovered the lost secrets of squares and the logical organization of
space. Within Romanesque towns, picturesquely named streets, alleys and
gutters, rather than noble avenues, formed a complicated maze. Instead of
temples or mausoleums, they were bordered by a confusion of buildings
bearing no relation to any mathematical law. At Cluny in the twelfth century,
the rue d’Avril, probably the oldest street in the town, winds, like an
earthworm, between low, unaligned houses in the Romanesque tradition,
with twin arcades of pointed arches at ground level surmounted by arcaded
Organization of Space
Romanesque masons were far from being theoreticians. Their sparing
economy, absolute rejection of waste, practicality, and liking of security in
preference to any form of expensive elaboration, were all good “peasant”
virtues. To oversimplify a complex situation, every facet of Romanesque
architecture brings us back to a few very simple rules: organisation of space
into regular bays, and the juxtaposition or occasional superimposition of
conventional masses arranged as interlocking cubes. Every advance in
technical progress, whether the result of a migration of craftsmen, a detail
seized by the quick eye of an architect, or a political conquest, was adapted
to fit in with this schematic outline. Thus, military architecture profited from
the Crusades by the discovery of the complex layouts and round sections of
Byzantine fortifications. The old keeps of the eleventh century perched on

their artificial mounds practically disappeared or were shut up behind a
network of wards and casemates. Their construction involved the fitting
together of a series of quadrangular spaces, which set far fewer problems
than the building of the round towers of the retaining walls which must have
contributed to the spread of domical vaults. Church building which was more
detailed but less inventive, proceeded on the same basis.
In particular, what needs to be appreciated is the spatial rhythm brought
about by the succession of bays, like a ball which a group of players passes
from one to another; for this is one of the richest, most evocative effects of
Romanesque architecture. This interior movement, brought about by the
balance of basic elements such as pillars and transverse arches, arcades and
clerestory windows, is echoed by the exterior elevations punctuated by
buttresses and lightened by bays and intermediary arcading.
Independent Bays with Perfect or Imperfect Supports
These two categories are only seemingly contradictory. Recession and
hollowing out make walls thinner and lighter as they get higher. Corbelling,
on the other hand, causes the entire weight of a building to rest on a support
diminished by the interplay of successive steps which submerge and divide
internal pressures like the motion of invisible waves.
The efforts of Romanesque architects were concentrated on assuring the
structural independence of the vaulted bay. The basic element was either led
to independent organization by the interaction of carefully elaborated
balances, or was assisted by external supports. So many different
procedures and interior arrangements resulted from this choice that it would
almost be possible to use them as a basis for a new system of classification
for Romanesque architecture. The single naves, so suited to the demands of
the liturgy (they were not divided by screens), had to make up for the
absence of buttresses by a system of cloister or domical vaults which
contained their own thrusts. Tunnel-vaults, on the other hand, required
buttresses which could only be effective if they were applied to the probable
breaking point or to the actual base of the vault. These conditions created
quadrant-vaulted aisles, especially those which supported galleries so
favored by the architects of Auvergne. Built after 1000 with the aid of
rudimentary techniques, the narthex at Tournus turned out to be one of the
most masterly constructions and one of the most powerful spatial
combinations of all Romanesque architecture. At Cluny, less than a hundred
years later, imperfect buttressing of the nave by the groined-vaulted aisles
was avoided by doubling and staging them, thus containing the opposing
counter-thrusts engendered by the pointed tunnel-vault of the nave itself.
Architectural Decoration
To complete his task and bring a collection of dead colours to life, a fresco
painter takes up his brush and, with a few dazzling strokes, heightens the
light on a face, emphasizes the fall of a drapery, or accentuates a contour.
His work glows and is transfigured as if suddenly projected from the

shadows. Just as with sketches, the technical construction of balanced
masses lacks this final touch of genius.
In Romanesque architecture sculpture assumes the important function of the
final touch without which the most beautiful framework is no more than a
dead skeleton. Like the painted decoration on the surface of an antique vase,
it endows an apparently logical, functional structure with a touch of the
It is surprising to find what a small part of the total surface of a Romanesque
building was given over to sculptural decoration, whether reliefs or statues.
The objective subordination of ornament is made clear by the fact that the
architect almost always reserved it for the key points of the structure. On
exteriors, sculpture was limited to three well spaced features: cornices, arch
moldings, and the tympana surmounting doorways. A cornice runs along the
top of a wall below the fall of the roof which it stresses with its firm line. The
corbels which support the ledge at intervals add a flickering effect. In eastern
France they are usually plain, but, from Spain as far as Berry, they are
decorated with tongues and scrolls, suggesting Arab influence. In western
France these are found next to figured corbels, a system which gradually
extended to the banks of the Loire. These small areas did not offer much
scope to sculptors depicting men or animals. In some churches in Saintonge
and Upper Auvergne, however, the ingenuity of artists, for whom no detail
was of minor importance provided it played its part in the whole composition,
endowed these small features with the entire range of their spirited
imagination. Arch moldings have a twofold function. They frame windows
and doors with their curves and so serve to stress their structural roles. They
also help to lighten the walls in which these apertures appear by a series of
recessions and projections. By this means it was possible to avoid an ugly
effect of coarsely scored stone. Usually, Romanesque sculptors reserved their
skill for the archivolts of doorways whose large proportions were ill suited to
being left bare, and limited the decoration of the smaller bays to discreetly
molded keystones. In the West, however, and especially in Saintonge, they
heaped decoration on them all, covering their surfaces with scrolls and
palmettes or with small figures corresponding with the radiating axes.
These great sculptured portals proceeded from the unquestionable
renaissance of the sculptor’s artwhich, shortly before the twelfth century,
completed the great architectural experiences of the eleventh and at the
same time marked the result of all the continuous investigations since 1000.
Their simultaneous appearance in Languedoc and Burgundy is proof of the
scope of the development. The light, sober compositions of the Porte de
Miegeville at St Sernin, Toulouse, and the west portal of the great church at
Cluny give way to the frenzied apocalyptic visions and Last Judgments of the
twelfth century. Gradually, sculpture achieved a fresher, richer and more
mobile outline.
Attempts have been made to establish a connection between these great
sculptured portals and the movement of pilgrims to Santiago. It is true that
two of the most famous examples at Vezelay and St Gilles-du-Gard belong to
shrines listed in the ‘Pilgrims’ Guide’ as important stations on the road.

Nevertheless, their almost total absence in Velay and Auvergne, despite the
fact that these regions were traversed by many of these routes and were
sanctified by the presence of many holy relics, very much weakens this
theory. Moreover, Poitou and Saintonge, though crossed by the western
roads, offer no examples of this type. We may do better to take note of the
geographical setting of these sculptures which must have been difficult to
assemble. This invariably coincides with outcrops of limestone, a resistant
material, easy to carve and cut up into large slabs, something which can
hardly be said of the granite used for the churches of the Massif Central.
Historiated Capitals
The latter region to some extent found compensation in the capitals
surmounting pillars, which act as a break before the actual spring of the
arch. This was a principle inherited by Romanesque architects from classical
antiquity. They excluded the Doric and Ionic forms as having too little in
common with their decorative ambitions but eagerly seized on the rich
Corinthian variety reinterpreting it with the freedom of choice typical of their
inventiveness. In the summer of 1964 a magnificent capital was retrieved
from the site of the abbey church of Cluny: it probably came from the
narthex constructed after the completion of the actual church about 11151120. With its elongated basket suddenly expanding into a powerful volute it
provides a stylization of the Corinthian motif with a concentrated authority
that may well remain unequalled. Early goldsmiths’ work and preRomanesque illuminations, especially Irish, considerably enlarged the
repertory with combinations of spiral and interlacing ornament as well as
with zoomorphic decorations of monsters, back to back or facing one
another, which were of Asiatic origin. Romanesque artists fully exploited the
architectural function of capitals and, at the same time, completely recreated
the details of their sculptured form. Their chief invention was to assign them
an almost liturgical role by making them into illustrations of the wonderful
stories on which the Christian faith is founded. Innumerable examples
scattered throughout the Romanesque sphere of influence are moving
illustrations of their ability to solve this dual problem successfully. (See
also: Early Christian Art (c.150-1100) and Monastic Irish Art c.600 onwards.)
Two types of capital exist side by side. Each one crowning an isolated column
is a complete entity. They are shaped either as truncated cones, or as cubes
with their lower parts rounded off. When the column is reduced to a halfcylinder and forms a respond the capital is merely cut in half vertically and
its profile remains unaltered.
These surfaces were suitable for leaf carving but were not as satisfactory as
fiat expanses for the representation of human forms. Plant sculpture on
stone seems never to have died out, but the representation of human forms
had not been attempted until the Romanesque sculptors boldly launched the
attack. Their earliest efforts, dating from about 1000, are hesitant and
unformed but also surprising on account of their implied promise. The rules
which these anonymous pioneers strove to formulate were those which were
to continually engage the attention of later sculptors. Once again the creative
process is clearly revealed at St Benigne in Dijon. Almost all the capitals of

the rotunda were undecorated except for those framing the west entrance
which were adorned with strange, turbulent compositions in relief, one of
which has been identified by Andre Parrot as the symbols of the four
evangelists. It is difficult to realize that these compositions, examples of an
already accomplished technique, are contemporary with the childish gropings
expressed in some of the ambulatory capitals. With due regard to the shape
of the capital, an imaginative craftsman (ill-served by imperfect execution)
has attempted to portray a figure in prayer. The roughly worked head has a
low forehead vaguely imitated from Roman art with a long beard divided into
two points by a centre parting fitted between two clumsily raised arms. An
unconvincing twist of the body causes the open palms to spread out to the
corners of the capital which, elsewhere, are decorated with an abundance of
elongated foliage. At the side the sculptor, either as a joke or as the result of
an interruption, has left the sketched outline of his work inscribed on the
surface of the stone – the furrow of the beard and the gesture of the raised
These glimpses of the capitals at Dijon are extremely valuable as they aptly
sum up the basic principle of Romanesque sculpture: its absolute subjection
to the shape and plan of supports, no matter how exacting these might be.
This explains the anatomical deformations, excessive elongations and
foreshortenings sometimes in combination, which so puzzled nineteenth
century art historians. Romanesque sculptors hardly ever thought of
imitating nature except in secondary details. Starting with an instinctive
idea, they experimented with lines on stone, forcing a shape upon them, just
as one looks for a profile or silhouette in a dissolving cloud. They were
especially influenced by the images found in Irish illuminated manuscripts, in
which human bodies were twisted and bent into extraordinary attitudes. By
means of bold foreshortenings, arabesques, distortions and baffling swarms
of human shapes, the sculptors freed Romanesque architecture from its
implacable logic, endowing it as if by magic with a sense of balance. The
nearer this art approached technical maturity, the more it seemed to achieve
a virtuosity essential to its needs. The scrolls and spirals of accomplished late
works such as the wall at Charlieu with its agitated sculptures already
showing signs of decline share the overwhelming spontaneity of the greatest
Decoration Reflects Secular Uncertainty and Religious Certainty
From this whirlpool of shapes arose a single idea and a sense of direction
which overran the world. This evolution finally resolved the dramatic tension
between souls attracted to order and tranquillity and yet set in a cruel,
inexplicable world. Romanesque architects peopled the earth with churches
and chapels symbolizing eternity. Yet their sense of anguish and
consciousness of sin invested these buildings with strange, unhappy
monsters representing a melancholy, heartfelt appeal to redemption. This
bestiary of monsters, which took such a hold on Romanesque imagination,
represented far more than a reservoir of forms and decorative themes. It
was a type of classification of a haunted, frightening world and its resources,
of evil. Everything there was linked in an infernal dance: nightmare animals,
gryphons, monsters from the East, sciapods, dog-headed beasts and dwarfs

with huge ears. They formed a strange picture of intellectual abandonment
and sheer terror.
Romanesque Architecture in England
To England the Normans carried from France the knowledge of mature
Romanesque design and craftsmanship. The early English cathedrals were
constructed in this style, and there were numerous Norman castles. It is said
that no fewer than seven thousand churches were built in England in the
century following the Norman Conquest of 1066. There had been a native
Anglo-Saxon architecture, which was of heavy, sturdy type, and this
contributed some minor features to the new expression.
English Romanesque is usually known as Norman architecture. Durham
Cathedral is the largest monument in which the original Romanesque
character has persisted through later accidents and “improvements.” But
some of the most impressive bits of Romanesque construction are to be seen
in the crypt of Canterbury Cathedral, in the transepts of Winchester, in the
crypt of Worcester, and in parts of Peterborough. In general the English
cathedrals had longer transepts than those in the typical buildings in France
and a main tower was added over the crossing.
Romanesque Architecture in Germany
In the German Romanesque churches there is more of the old basilica, and
of surviving Carlovingian features as adapted from Byzantine art by the
architects who built for Charlemagne at Aachen (Aix-la-Chapelle); and there
is a special affinity with the Lombard forms with which the Romanesque
technically began. But again diversity is a first characteristic of the churches
grouped under the style name. The plentiful wood of Germany often led the
architects to roof the naves with that material, and therefore there was no
rapid transition toward the church marked by the idioms developed from the
use of the groined vault. Nor was there an influx of Norman ecclesiastics and
workers as in England. Nevertheless, the cathedrals of Worms, Mainz, and
Speyer, and the Church of the Apostles at Cologne, are among the typical
vaulted edifices with consistent round-arch construction. Certain minor
features set off the German Romanesque from other varieties – notably,
plans with apses at both ends of the church and, on the exterior, a profusion
of arcaded galleries and round or octagonal turrets. In Germany more
markedly than elsewhere Romanesque architecture was made into
something consistent, distinct from the Byzantine on the one hand and from
the Gothic on the other. But as an elaborated style, as seen in the larger
monuments, it is somewhat dull, with virtues that lie in the perilous realm of
the picturesque. Some of the best of it in Germany is appropriately in
“romantic” half-ruined castles. And indeed, throughout Europe the thickwalled, turreted, and almost windowless Romanesque way of building was
employed for castles, forts, and city walls. (See also: German Medieval Art.)
Famous Romanesque Buildings

Note: Unless stated, all dates refer to completion.
– Palatine Chapel, Aachen (800) Germany
– Church of St Vitus, Corvey (885) Germany
– Cluny Church I (927) Burgundy
– Abbey of Mont St Michel, Normandy (966) France
– St Pantaleon Cathedral, Cologne (980) Germany
– Cluny Church II (981) Burgundy
– St Cyriakus Cathedral, Gernrode (983) Germany
– Church of S Baudelio, Berlanga (end 10th century) Spain
– Monastery Church of S. Pedro de Roda (1022) Catalonia
– Abbey Church of St Michael, Hildesheim (1033) Germany
– St Remi Church, Reims (1049) France
– Abbey Church of St Etienne, Caen (begun 1059) France
– Abbey Church of La Trinite, Caen (begun 1060) France
– S Miniato al Monte, Florence (1062) Italy
– St Etienne Pilgrimage Church, Nevers (begun 1063) France
– S Martin, Fromista, Navarre (begun 1066) Spain
– Abbey Church of Notre-Dame, Jumieges (1067) France
– White Tower, London (after 1078) England
– Ely Cathedral (1080) England
– S Ambrogio, Milan (begun 1080) Italy
– Pisa Cathedral (after 1083) Italy
– La Grand Chartreuse Abbey, Grenoble (1084) France
– Richmond Castle, Yorkshire (1086) England
– Notre-Dame, Paray-le-Monial (1090) France
– Maria Laach Abbey, Rhineland (after 1093) Germany
– Durham Cathedral (after 1093) England
– Lund Cathedral (1103) Sweden
– S Nicola, Bari (1105) Italy
– Speyer Cathedral (1106) Germany
– Modena Cathedral (1110) Italy
– Paray-Le-Monial (1110) France
– Abbey Church of Saint-Philibert, Tournus (1120) France
– Abbey Church of Sainte-Foy (1120) France
– Saint-Sernin Pilgrimage Church, Toulouse (1120) France
– Baptistery of St Giovanni, Florence (1128) Italy
– Cluny Church III (1130) France
– Mainz Cathedral (1137) Germany
– Krak des Chevaliers, Homs (after 1142) Syria
– Notre-Dame-la-Grande, Poitiers (1145) France
– St Lazare, Autun (1146) France
– Abbey Church of Fontenay (1147) France
– Ostelars Church, Bornholm Island (1150) Denmark
– Borgund Church, Sogne Fijord (1150) Norway
– Abbey Church of St-Benoit-sur-Loire (1073) France
– Zamora Cathedral (1174) Spain
– Dover Castle (begun 1180) England
– Monreale Cathedral (1182) Sicily
– Vor Frue Kirke, Kalundborg (church fortress) (1190) Denmark
– Baptistery, Parma (after 1198) Italy
– Worms Cathedral (1200) Germany

– Santiago de Compostela Cathedral (1211) Spain
– Church of the Madeleine, Vezelay (1215) France
– Holy Apostles Church, Cologne (1215) Germany
– Old Cathedral, Torre del Gallo, Salamanca (1220) Spain
– Cistercian Church, Heisterback (1237) Germany
– S Maria la Mayor, Toro (1240) Spain
– Heddal Stave Church, Telemark (1250) Norway
– Carcassone fortress city (12th-13th century) France. (Note: In the early
1850s, the fortifications of Carcassonne were restored by Viollet-le-Duc, the
leading authority on medieval restorations.)
For a fascinating comparison between East and West, see the
extraordinary 12th century Angkor Wat Khmer Temple (111545) and the 11th century Kandariya Mahadeva Temple(101729).
Romanesque Revival (19th Century)
Following the early nineteenth century Greek and Gothic Revival movements
in American architecture(and also in Europe), a number of American
architects started a Romanesque Revival trend. The earliest of these was
James Renwick (1818-95), whose design for the Smithsonian Institute (“the
castle”) in Washington DC (1847-55) made it the first American public
building in that style. Another architect influenced by the Romanesque was
Richard Upjohn (1802-78). The greatest exponent, however, of 19th century
Romanesque revivalist architecture was Henry Hobson Richardson (1838-86)
who was responsible for masterpieces like Trinity Church, Boston (1872-77)
and Marshall Field Wholesale Store (1885-87) Chicago.

The Romanesque was the first period in medieval art to include all of Europe. Especially
it was seen in Germany, Italy, France, Spain, and Great Britain. It begun around 1000 and
until about the middle of the thirteenth century. The Romanesque was a period in the
high Middle Ages, which was entirely occurred by spirit of Christianity. And we can say to
look at the Romanesque art and architecture, Romanesque art and architecture is more
about Christian church art and architecture. The majority work of this period is linked to
Christian view, monastic culture, religious elements, and Christian way of
life. Romanesque architecture is called as religion architecture because of the
development of Christianity.
There existed some cultural interaction in the Europe, which affected development in
religion, art and architecture. Three separate spheres of political power and cultural
outlook ringed the Mediterranean basin in ninth century.
One of these spheres was Andalusia Umayyad. The Muslims settled in Spain in ninthtenth century. They had different culture, different beliefs and different religion. And this
style was extraordinary in Mediterranean basin. Other important sphere is
Constantinople. After Iconoclastic Controversy, the Byzantine Empire had settled down
to a period of renewed strength under the Macedonian dynasty. The art returned to
selected religious themes. The last sphere was the Normans. Romanesque architecture is
usually referred to as Norman. They came to the England from Normandy in western
While looking at the Romanesque building, which have with only a few exceptions been
specially photographed for Christian spirit. Some of pictures will convey the special
atmosphere, which characterizes a medieval church and monastery. Visual aspect of
Romanesque sculptures are closely linked to architecture. I mean, religious connection in
Romanesque architecture is sculpture in the buildings.

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