11th and 12th Century
Images and some text from
Alan Peterson’s Art History Site
and Gardner’s Art History
ROMANESQUE ARCHITECTURE 1000 1140
The term Romanesque ("Roman-like") was first used to designate
a style of architecture that used Roman arches and had thick,
heavy walls, based upon the basilica. The style is pervasive
Arch of Titus 81 AD
Plan of a Roman Basilica
The romanesque era is marked by
• Immense relief that the world had not ended at the
turn of the millennium
• The resurgence of cities and trade
• The emergence of Europe as we know it
• The strengthened authority of the Pope
• The emergence of a middle class and merchant class
• The evolution of the Romance languages
• The peak of feudalism as a political system
The Great Age of
Monasteries housed the relics of saints,
and during the Romanesque period the
cult of relics became a major cultural
factor influencing architecture.
Devout Christians would undertake
long pilgrimages in order to visit and
venerate the relics of saints and martyrs.
People traveled widely to visit sites and
see relics because they believed them to
have curative powers.
The large numbers of travelers created
standard routes from one monastery to
another: “Pilgrimage Roads” became
routes of trade/commerce as well as
Nave of St. Savin. Poitou, France c. 1100
A Medieval Building Boom
To meet the needs of large
numbers of travelers, large
scale building projects
were undertaken - the first
massive building resurgence
since the Roman Empire had
collapsed more than six
hundred years before.
A boom in building occurred
due to the need, in some cases,
to replace wooden churches
which had been burned by the
The boom contributed to the
continued growth in the cult of
religious relics and pilgrimages.
St. Sernin Toulouse 1080 - 1120
• Thick heavy walls support stone
• Blocky, earthbound appearance
• Simple geometric masses
• The exterior reflects the interior
structure and organization.
• Interiors tend to be dark because
the massive walls dictate small
• Over time, a growing sophistication
in the understanding of how to use
vaulting to span the large spaces led to
the use of groin vaults and rib vaults.
San Sernin, Toulouse
The Plan of a Romanesque
• San Sernin, in Toulouse, is a typical
pilgrimage church in the Burgundian
• The floor plan is a Latin cross with
clearly defined parts.
• It is modeled on a basilica plan
modified for large crowds to provide a
• The square of the crossing is the
module for the rest of the plan:
½ (crossing square) = 1 (bayside aisle)
The Plan of a Romanesque
• The side aisles form a continuous
circuit around the transept nave and
• The ambulatory aisle enclosed
the choir- the area east of the
transept- was separated by a screen
to give privacy to monks during the
mass or other services.
• The side aisles allow visitors to walk
back to view the relics without
disturbing anything going on in the
nave or choir areas.
Relics: The Attraction
During the Romanesque
period churches were in
the relics business: more
relics= more business=
Each chapel would have
different relics funded by
St. Sernin, looking toward
the altar and apse
Looking up at the dome in the crossing.
Thing to note are the massive blocks of multi-colored stone.
A prominent feature of many Romanesque churches is the
addition of multiple chapels "radiating chapels".
Stone barrel vaults require massive support because they create
a lateral thrust requiring heavy, buttressed walls.
Sainte-Foy is one of the
earliest surviving examples of a
A church designed specifically
to accommodate visiting
Sainte Foy, to whom the
church is dedicated, was
martyred as a child in 303 CE.
The church was built above
the site of her tomb, and it
holds relics associated with her.
The plan of Sainte-Foy shares much
in common with the plan of St.
Sainte-Foy, however, is much
shorter in proportion.
It does have radiating chapels and
a circumambulatory aisle: key
characteristics of pilgrimage
Another view of the apse, transept and bell-tower. This is a nice
illustration of the massive quality of romanesque buildings.
In this view of the nave,
looking towards the
altar, the interior seems
to be very dark.
The windows around
the base of the bell-tower
near the upper-left of the
image are well noticeble.
ST. ETIENNE CATHEDRAL
• Caen (Normandy) 1067 – 1120 CE.
• St. Etienne is a good example of the
Norman style of Romanesque
architecture. The style developed during
the rule of William the Conqueror. He's
buried here at St. Etienne.
• Buttresses divide the facade into three
bays: a tripartite facade; there are
also three horizontal divisions. (The spires
were both added during the Gothic
St. Etienne is seen as a precursor of the
Gothic style of church architecture that
emerged in 1140 with the re-building of
St. Denis in Paris. Website: St. Etienne
St. Etienne’s Vaulting System
Ribbed groin vaults (or just rib vaults)
replace barrel vaults and allow the addition
of clerestory windows.
Rib vaults are groin vaults reinforced with
extra stone ribbing.
These vaults at St. Etienne are some of the
earliest ribbed vaults.
They are supported by large complex piers
covered with pilasters and engaged columns.
St. Etienne’s Nave
The floor plan reflects a regular
system of square modules.
The ribbed vaults may be described
as sexpartite because there are six
elements to each rib vault.
St. Etienne A view of the apse and towers of the east end.
The Church of
St. Lazare had the relics of
Lazarus, a friend of Christ
whom he raised from the
There was a medieval
legend that he had sailed
from the Holy Land to
Marseilles and become the
first bishop of that city.