Romanesque Architecture : St-Nectaire

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Regional Developments in France

The emergence of Romanesque architecture was not a simple, linear process. Rather, during the tenth and eleventh centuries, the region that is now France served as a fertile experimental ground. The separate regions exhibited tendencies toward different architectural forms, and their sacred as well as secular institutions also pursued a variety of goals in their building policies.

The architecture of Normandy is worth of particular attention. Under Norman rule, a stable political structure had developed in this region, which engaged in constant exchanges with other areas. The Normans’ dynastic relationships extended as far as Sicily, which developed a Norman culture of its own. The Normans’ contact with England – which they conquered at the Battle of Hastings in 1066 – was particularly close. In terms of architecture, therefore, one can justifiably speak of an Anglo-Norman style, which is characterized by twin-towered facades, galleries and double-shelled walls.

The vaulting of the nave and transept with groin vaults established the basis for Gothic vaulting techniques. The abbey church of Jumieges (in Normandy), on the other hand, which is today a ruin, set a precedent for the articulation of nave walls. Each pair of bays was connected by a wall shaft, creating a rhythmic, vertical pattern from which the overall structure of the interior could be derived.

A completely different, but no less impressive interior originated in Tournus, in Burgundy: the nave of the abbey church of St-Philibert is astonishing for its height and vastness. Massive, round stone pillars support freestanding arches across which transverse barrels have been laid- a vault construction that was most likely added after the church was built, and which created a grandiose effect.

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Aquitaine and Poitou were home to many hall churches with barrel or groin vaults, but even more popular were domed churches in which the bays of the nave were vaulted with a series of pendentive domes. The vaulted group is exemplified by the former abbey church of St-Savin-sur-Gartempe, the nave of which was constructed between 1095 and 1115. In this church, the aisles are separated by a colossal arcade. The barrel vault extends the length of the nave with no transverse arches (the church is lit indirectly from the side aisles).

The cathedrals of Angouleme and Perigueux represent the domed type of church. Built on a Latin cross, Anglouleme has four domes over its nave, while Perigueux was built on a Greek cross and has five domes. In both churches, the domes rest on pendentives. It is possible that this type of vaulted roof was inspired by Early Christian or Byzantine examples.

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Other visions clearly inspired the block-like exterior of the pilgrimage church of St-Nectaire in Auvergne. Here, the clerestory was omitted in favor of a barrel vault, and the architectural elements progress fro the low-ceilinged chapels to the aisles, to the pitched roofs and the facade towers all the way to the looming crossing tower.

Source: History of Architecture From Classic to Contemporary

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