Regional characteristics of Romanesque architecture

Regional characteristics of Romanesque architecture

Romanesque architecture is the term that is used to describe the architecture of Europe which emerged in the late 10th century and evolved into the Gothic style during the 12th century. The Romanesque style in England is more traditionally referred to as Norman architecture.

The style can be identified right across Europe with certain significant architectural features occurring everywhere. There are other characteristic which differ greatly from region to region.

Most of the buildings that are still standing are churches, some of which are very large abbey churches and cathedrals. The majority of these are still in use, some of them having been substantially altered over the centuries. Bannister Fletcher, "A History of Architecture on the Comparative Method’’.]

This article presents a visual comparison of Romanesque churches, abbeys and cathedrals of different countries with brief descriptions of the architectural features that can be identified within the pictures.

Romanesque architecture, regional characteristics

Features of Romanesque architecture which are seen all over Europe.

These features are common to most Romanesque buildings.
* Round arches in arcades, windows, doors and vaults.
* Massive walls
* Towers
* Piers
* Stout columns
* Buttresses of shallow projection.
* Groin vaulting
* Portals with sculpture and mouldings
* Decorative arcades as an external feature, and frequently internal also.
* Spiral ornament
* Cushion capitals
* Murals

Features which are regionally diversified

These features often have strong local and regional traditions. However, the movement of senior clergy, stonemasons and other craftsmen meant that these traditional features are sometimes found at distant locations.

* Ground plan
* Facade
* Position and number of towers
* Shape of towers
* Presence and shape of spires
* Building material
* Local diversity in decorative details that was dependent on local craftsmen.


The plans below do not show the buildings in their current states. With the exception of the plan of St. Gall, which is from an ancient manuscript (and probably does not reflect an actual construction), they are all hypothetical reconstructions of groundplans as they existed in the 12th or 13th centuries. The Abbey Church of St. Gall has been replaced by a Baroque Church. Speyer has had its west front rebuilt twice, Ely Cathedral has lost the eastern arm, being replaced in the Gothic style, the central tower being replaced with the unique octagon and the northwest tower, never rebuilt. It has also gained a west porch. Santiago has had some substantial changes including a Baroque west front.

*The Abbey Church of St. Gall, Switzerland, shows the plan that was to become common throughout Germanic Europe. It is a Latin Cross with a comparatively long nave and short transepts and eastern end, which is apsidal. The nave is aisled, but the chancel and transepts are not. It has an apsidal west end, which was to become a feature of Churches of Germany, such as Worms Cathedral.
*Speyer Cathedral, Germany, also has aisless transept and chancel. It has a markedly modular look. A typical Germanic characteristic is the presence of towers framing the chancel and the west end. There is marked emphasis on the western entrance which is seen in several other churches. Each vault compartment covers two narrow bays of the nave
*At Autun Cathedral, France, the pattern of the nave bays and aisles extends beyond the crossing and into the chancel, each aisle terminating in an apse. Each nave bay is separated at the vault by a transverse rib. Each transept projects to the width of two nave bays. The entrance has a narthex which screens the main portal. This type of entrance was to be elaborated in the Gothic period on the transepts at Chartres.
*As was typically the case in England, Ely Cathedral was a Benedictine monastery, serving both monastic and secular function. To facilitate this, the chancel or "presbytery" is longer than usually found in Europe, as are the aisled transepts which contained chapels. In England, emphasis was placed on the orientation of the chapels to the east. The very large piers at the crossing signify that there was once a tower. The western end having two round towers flanking a tall central tower was unique in Britain. Ely Cathedral was never vaulted and retains a wooden ceiling over the nave.
*Angoulême Cathedral, France, is one of several instances in which the Byzantine churches of Constantinople seem to have been influential in the design in which the main spaces are roofed by domes. This structure has necessitated the use of very thick walls, and massive piers from which the domes spring. There are radiating chapels around the apse, which is a typically French feature and was to evolve into the chevette.
*The cathedral of Santiago de Compostela shares many features with Ely, but is typically Spanish in its expansive appearance. Santiago held the body of St. James and was the most significant pilgrimage site in Europe. The narthex, the aisles, the large aisled transepts and numerous projecting chapels reflect this. The chancel is short, compared to that of Ely, and the altar set so as to provide clear view to a vast congregation simultaneously.
*Modena Cathedral shows a typically Italian romanesque plan, often architecturally termed a "basilica", because of its similarity in plan to a Roman basilicas.

Form and material

Romanesque churches range in size from tiny chapels to vast abbeys and cathedrals of which several survive where the length is in excess of 150 metres (approx. 500 feet). They may range between a single cell building with a small apse, and a vast arrangement of many parts to satisfy complex liturgical and organisational functions.

mall churches

*The small Leper Chapel on the outskirts of Cambridge, is a rare survivor as the majority of Romanesque (or Norman) Churches in England have been extended over the centuries and their origins may not be immediately visible. This church is typically English in its simple square lines, it gables, the clear division of the nave from the lower, square-ended chancel and the material which includes flint rubble repaired with old bricks, and ashlar masonry for the chancel, with was originally vaulted but no longer is. The sculptural details are of chevrons, checkerboard and other geometric patterns.
* Schoengrabern Church, Austria is also a simple aisless church, which is divided into nave and chancel, with a projecting apse which is semicircular. The church is of ashlar masonry and has a later tower of Baroque form. The decoration comprises a Lombard band beneath the roof, and sculptural scenes in high relief on the upper part of the wall, which, unlike the sculpture found on door mouldings and capitals, are not directly related to the architectural form.
* The Church of St-Médard, Xhignesse, Belgium, is cruciform in plan with an extended chancel with apsidal end and paired windows. Externally the roughly-hewn walls have pilasters rising to arches, surmounted by another tier of arches around the chancel, which are different in number and do not match the arrangement of those beneath them, The upper arches surround shallow niches.
* San Vittore alle Chiuse in Genga, Italy, is a monastic church. It is built of rubble and is of severely simple appearance. Its form is based upon Byzantine models, having a Greek Cross plan set within a square and surmounted by an octagonal "tambour" over the crossing. There are three tall apses projecting from the chancel wall, the central being a little larger. The church also has a squat tower covered by a sloping roof.
* Notre-Dame, Domfront, Normandy, France, is a cruciform church with a short apsidal east end. The nave has lost its aisle, and has probably some of its length. The crossing has a tower that rises in two differentiated stages and is surmounted by a pyramidical spire of a type seen widely in France and Germany and also on Norman towers in England.
* St. Giles Church, Poland, has a simple plan with a single round tower at the end. Similar single round towers are also seen in Italy where they are usually to one side of the building. The axial position of the tower is normal to those of English Parish churches, which are generally square in plan, and is also common in France and Germany but is not normal to Italy.
* Sant Climent de Taüll, Spain, has a tower set towards the eastern end. It is of a type which was very common in most parts of Europe, particularly Italy where it generally is free-standing. The tower rises in clearly defined stages with openings that increase in number, in size or both. This type of tower is not seen in England. In Germany, a similar style of tower occurs in pairs.
* The Rotunda of Saint-George at Říp, Czech Republic, is a circular church of great simplicity in construction and decoration. It has an apse and a circular tower with paired windows at the belfry level and no other ornament. The round nave has possibly been inspired by the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Jerusalem. The present appearance of the rotunda is the result of a purist reconstruction from 1870s.

Large churches

*The Abbey of Fongombault in France shows the influence of the Abbey of Cluny. The cruciform plan is clearly visible. There is a chevette of chapels surrounding the chance apse. The crossing is surmounted by a tower. The transepts end with gables.
*Parma Cathedral is typically Italian in its cruciform plan and the dome over the crossing. The tower is constructed as a separate entity, as is the octagonal baptistry.
*Bamberg Cathedral is typically German in appearance with a transept and short chancel, and a second apse projecting from the eastern end, the main door being at the side. The paired towers flank each end of the building and have later copper spires.
*Durham Cathedral presents the English pattern of three towers, two at the western end, and one at the crossing. The original Romanesque central tower is thought to have been lower than the western towers. [Alec Clifton-Taylor, "The Cathedrals of England".] In typically English fashion, the western towers, begun in about 1120, were not completed until 1220 and although retaining Romanesque form, have pointed arches. They are topped by battlements and pinnacles of c 1470.
* The cruciform plan of Lund Cathedral is visible in the picture, with massive western towers. The chancel is quite short and terminates in an apse which, although large, does not extend directly from the chancel as at Fongombault, but is a discrete form, as at Schoengrabern Church (above) and as typical in German churches.
*Pécs Cathedral, Hungary, is an aisled basilica form with the main door central to a side, rather than the west end. There are four matched towers, one at each corner of the building.
*Norwich Cathedral is typical of English monastic cathedrals in the length of its nave. Also in the typically English style, emphasis is given to the central tower (1120-45) which is massive and rests not upon walls but on four piers. The Gothic spire dates from 1464.
*The Collegiate Church of Tum, Poland, has apses at either end in the German manner, those at the west being flanked by towers with copper spires of the original form. The aisles are two-storied with clerestory above. The round towers flanking the eastern apse were reconstructed in the 20th century. The church was made in opus emplectum technics.

West fronts

The facade, or west front, generally has the main portal, and often a group of three doors, except in some churches of the German tradition where the main door is at the side. Except in Italy, in large churches there are often paired towers.

ome facades of Poland, Italy, Hungary, Portugal and Austria

* Poland, the 12th century Abbey Church at Sulejów, dedicated to St. Thomas of Canterbury, has a facade that is very typical of many Romanesque churches across Europe. The elevation of nave and aisles are clearly revealed in the facade, and they are divided from each other by buttresses. The gable is decorated with shallow arcading and there is a splendid portal with separate gable beneath a wheel window.
*Italy, San Ciriaco, Ancona, Marche, while having the same basic components as the previous church, the massive size of the portal dominates the facade, overlapping the oculous window. The effect is very dynamic.

* Jak Church, Hungary, also has a very dynamic portal, in this case combining a round inner arch with tympanum of Christ in Majesty, with an outer arch that maintains the same style of elaborate mouldings but rises to a point, beneath a gable with stepped niches containing figures. All the various openings and courses on the building are detailed at the edge. Between the towers is a gable, unlike similar churches in Germany which usually have a straight, sloping roof.
* The facade of Lisbon Cathedral has a massive fortress like appearance, it apparently defensive nature emphasised by its deeply recessed door and wheel window. The architectural details are sparse, except for the slender shafts and carved capitals around the openings and dividing the lower tower windows. The buttresses are more strongly projecting than in most Romanesque buildings.
*Portugal, the Old Cathedral of Coimbra has similar characteristics to Lisbon Cathedral, but the towers mask its roofline and end at the same height as the nave, topped by battlements. The whole central part of the facade is stepped forward.
*Italy, at the Basilica di San Nicola, Bari, the facade reveals the form of the of nave and aisles, as at Ancona. However, unlike this church where the details are focused on the single feature of the great portal, there are a great number of diverse details which with the exception of the placement of the round-topped windows, appear to have a random and scarcely rational distribution. The very shallow porch is little more than a moulding and its columns are supported on beasts which rest on brackets rather than the podium, giving an unstable appearance. Two columns are used to support the shallow buttresses of the nave, adding to the appearance of instability. The blind-arcading which decorates the building is of very shallow relief, against the massive appearance of the stone work. The towers differ in form and project one each side of the outer walls of the facade.
*Poland, St. Andrew's Church, Kraków. The facade has no portal, the entrances being located to either side of the church, into the aisles. It has a defensive appearance, the single large window being located high above the ground and above it, a triple opening under the sloping roof between the towers. Above the height of the ailses, the towers emerge in octagonal form with two high tiers of openings, the lower single and the upper paired. The original octagonal spires have been replaced with a baroque form.
* Austria, Gurk Cathedral, presents a rather stark facade, in form similar to St Andrew's, Kraków. However, there is no emphasis on the windows, but on the central door, (1200), which is deeply recessed into a vaulted porch. The effect is lost since the porch was screened with a Gothic doorway and windows. The square towers, complete with their Baroque domes rise to 60 metres.

Facades of Italy and France

*Italy, San Michele Maggiore, Pavia, Lombardy, is an example of an aisled church where a single unbroken gable on the facade screens the lower profile of the aisles. This large gable is decorated with stepped galleries and is divided by pilasters which rise uninterrupted to the roofline. The central windows rise in three tiers, double, single and occular. The three portals are not deeply recessed and have simple mouldings. A significant feature is rustication which runs in several bands across the facade, from half-way up the central portal to beneath the windows. the contrast of ashlar and rustication was to become a feature of Italian Renaissance architecture.
*Italy, Santa Maria della Pieve. Arezzo. At this church the facade extends in a horizontal line across the church like a screen, which is decorated by rows of tiered colonnettes, of diverse forms.
*At Pisa, the nave and aisles are revealed by the facade. While polychrome marble is present, it is not the dominant factor in the overall effect of the facade. There is a superimposed classical blind arcade with Corinthian-style capitals on the lower level, surmounted by five arcades of superficially identical form, (the spacing is somewhat different). Pisa Cathedral has one of the most lavish displays of this typically Italian decoration.
*Modena Cathedral
*Italy, The Cathedral of Parma clearly shows its Romanesque origins in the tiers of galleries of its facade and single gallery beneath the roof of the Baptistry. Parma Cathedral has retained its Romanesque portal, surmounted by a Gothic porch and window and a Renaissance pediment and loggias. The North and South transepts have retained intact medieval facades in brick.
*Italy, At San Miniato al Monte, Florence, the Classical heritage is made clear by the use of half-columns and pilasters of Corinthian style and classically proportioned pediments rather than steep gables and the square lintels over huge bronze doors like those of ancient Rome. However, the precise classical forms are somewhat disguised by the overall decorative appearance of the polychrome marble, a style favoured in Tuscany.
*Italy, the Church of St. Andrew, Empoli, is simpler that San Miniato, being aisless. It demonstrates another example of classical features being used in combination with polychrome.

Facades of France, Germany, England and Spain

*France, Saint-Etienne, Caen presents one of the best known Romanesque facades of Northern France, with three portals leading into the nave and aisles, and a simple arrangement of identical windows between the buttresses of the talll towers. Begun in the 1060s, it was a prototype for Gothic facades. The spires and the pinnacles, which appear to rise inevitably from the towers, are of the early 13th century.
* France, Trinité Church, Caen, has a greater emphasis on the central portal and the arrangement of the windows above it. The decoration of the towers begins at a lower level to that at Saint-Etienne, giving them weight and distinction. The upper balustrades are additions in the Classical style.
* Germany, Limburger Cathedral built in the early 13th century, has similar proportions to Trinité Church, Caen, but a greater diversity in its windows which include a central rose with plate tracery. During the 19th century the polychrome was stripped from the building but this has recently been restored.
* Germany, Bremen Cathedral. The present facade, including the rose window owes much to the restoration of the 1880s, when the towers which have otherwise retained their original form, were given Rhenish helm spires in place of the ancient pyramidical spires of very uneven height. During the medieval period the centre of the facade appears to have had a projecting two-storey porch or "westwork" with lower arcade and upper gallery like that at Minden.
* Germany, Maria Laach Abbey. This facade has a grouping of three towers which is a common German motif and is seen at either end of a number of churches in conjunction with an apse, as here, or porch such as at St. Pantaleon, Cologne. part of the composition here is an atrium with portal and arcades. The various parts of the building are clearly defined cubic and cylindrical shapes, so that the building has the appearance of assembled from component pieces like building blocks.
* England, Ely Cathedral, had an elaborate west front of the 1180s, with its central tower framed by smaller towers with a great variety of arcaded decoration, showing transitional features. The circular tower to the left fell and was never replaced. The Early English Gothic porch is of the 1250s and the upper lantern of the central tower, 1390s. While this triple facade is unique in England, the diversity of building styles forming a single composition is usual, rather than the exception. No cathedral in England has an intact Romanesque facade.
*France, Le Puy-en-Velay, Haute-Loire. The facade of this church has a complex arrangement of openings and blind arcades that was to become a feature of French Gothic facades. It is made even richer by the polychrome brick used in diverse patterns, including checkerboard, also a feature of ceramic decoration of Spanish churches of this period. The profile of the aisles is screened by open arches, perhaps for bells.
*France, Angoulême Cathedral, is another richly decorated facade, but here it is of dressed stone with sculpture as the main ornament. The manner of arrangement of the various arches is not unlike that at Le Puy-en-Velay, but forming five strong vertical divisions which suggests that the nave is framed by two aisles on each side. In fact, the church has no aisles and is roofed by domes. The figurative sculpture, in common with much Romanesque sculpture, is not closely integrated to the arched spaces into which it has been set.





Building materials


Notes and references


* Rolf Toman, "Romanesque", Könemann, (1997), ISBN 3-89508-447-6
* Banister Fletcher, "A History of Architecture on the Comparative method" (2001). Elsevier Science & Technology. ISBN 0-7506-2267-9.
* Helen Gardner; Fred S. Kleiner, Christin J. Mamiya, "Gardner's Art through the Ages". Thomson Wadsworth,(2004) ISBN 0-15-505090-7.
* George Holmes, editor, "The Oxford Illustrated History of Medieval Europe", Oxford University Press, (1992) ISBN 0-19-820073-0
* René Huyghe, "Larousse Encyclopedia of Byzantine and Medieval Art", Paul Hamlyn, (1958)
* Francois Ischer, "Building the Great Cathedrals". Harry N. Abrams,(1998). ISBN 0-8109-4017-5.
* Nikolaus Pevsner, "An Outline of European Architecture". Pelican Books (1964)
* John Beckwith, "Early Medieval Art", Thames and Hudson, (1964)
* Peter Kidson, The Medieval World", Paul Hamlyn, (1967)
* T. Francis Bumpus, , "The Cathedrals and Churches of Belgium", T. Werner Laurie. (1928)
* Alec Clifton-Taylor, "The Cathedrals of England", Thames and Hudson (1967)
* John Harvey, "English Cathedrals", Batsford (1961).

ee also

:cms-catlist|label=These categories on Mediawiki Commons hold many images of Romanesque art and Architecture:|post=
|Romanesque_art| Romanesque crypts| Lombard bands| Ottonian architecture| Romanesque portals| Romanesque architects| Romanesque architecture by country| Romanesque church towers| Romanesque Rotundas| Taqueado jaqués| Romanesque architecture| Bayeux Tapestry| Romanesque paintings| Romanesque art by country| Romanesque artists| Romanesque frescos| Romanesque manuscripts| Romanesque pulpits| Romanesque sculptures

*List of Romanesque architecture
*Romanesque art
*Romanesque sculpture
*Renaissance of the 12th century
*Romanesque Revival architecture
*Medieval architecture
*Pre-Romanesque art
*Ottonian architecture
*Gothic architecture
*Architecture of the medieval cathedrals of England

External links

* [ El Portal del Arte Románico] Visigothic, Mozarabe and Romanesque art in Spain.
* [ Romanesque churches in Cologne,Germany]
* [ Romanesque Churches in Southern Burgundy]
* [ Corpus of Romanesque Sculpture in Britain and Ireland]
* [ Illustrated history (French)]
* [ Overview of French Romanesque art]
* [ French Romanesque art through 150 places {fr}{es}{en}]
* [ Italian, French and Spanish Romanesque art (it) (fr) (es) (en)]
* [ Spanish and Zamora´s Romanesque art, easy navigation{es}]
* [ Spanish Romanesque art{es}]
* [ Romanesque Churches in Portugal {en}]
* [ The Nine Romanesque Churches of the Vall de Boi - Pyrenees{en}]
* [ Satan in the Groin - exhibitionist carvings on mediæval churches]

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