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Early Architecture in Irreland & Romanesque Architecture in England
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Durham Cathedral and Anglo-Norman Romanesque
Professor Roger Stalley

Although the contents of this section on Durham Cathedral are laid out in a logical sequence, moving from the history and description of the building to a broader discussion of its importance, there is no reason why individual sections cannot be approached in any order. The aim is to explore one of the outstanding buildings of the middle ages, while at the same time using the monument as a framework to consider some of the key issues associated with Romanesque. As well as tackling architectural matters, such as the function of the rib or the significance of alternation, this briefing also touches on broader questions such as the nature of regional schools and the concept of pilgrimage churches; it also provides an insight into methods of analysing monuments and ways of evaluating primary sources.

The term Romanesque is generally applied to buildings constructed in the eleventh and twelfth centuries. Although invented less than two hundred years ago, the term is appropriate, since it suggests the degree to which builders of this period revived and adapted techniques inherited from the architecture of the Roman world.

Before examining Durham Cathedral in detail, there are a number of general characteristics associated with Romanesque building that need to be considered, These include the following:

1. The increasing 'articulation' of buildings from c. 1030 onwards, through the use of engaged shafts, multiple (recessed) orders, and compound piers. These developments are thought to have originated in central France, in the area of the Loire valley, before spreading north to Normandy. The choir of the abbey church at Lessay, finished by 1098, or the nave of St Etienne at Caen, provide clear illustrations of the way in which the techniques were applied to a three storeyed church with aisles.

France, Lessay, Abbey Church of Saint Trinité, General view from southwest

France, Lessay, Abbey Church of Saint Trinité, Choir

France, Caen, St. Etienne, View of west façade

France, Caen, St. Etienne, Nave looking east

France, Caen, St. Etienne, General view from east end from southwest

France, Caen, St. Etienne, North elevation of nave from southeast
2. The increase in scale and complexity of architecture. This had a direct affect on the processes of design and the status of the master mason. Furthermore, the sheer quantity of building, along with the need for high quality masonry, led to a more professional approach both to construction and to quarrying stone. The ambitious scale of many Romanesque churches also had consequences for the length of time they took to complete.
3. The development of architectural sculpture: the intimate relationship between architecture and sculpture became one of the hallmarks of the Romanesque style. Carved ornament was frequently used to accentuate the main lines and basic forms of the buildings.

England, Durham Cathedral, Detail of wall arcading

4. The development of stone vaulting. The Romanesque era was a time of experiment, involving various solutions to the problem of how to cover the main spaces of large churches with ceilings of stone. The developments have been considered from several different points of view, some historians stressing the aesthetic merits of what happened, others pointing to 'iconographical' or symbolical motives, while more traditional scholars have considered the developments in purely structural terms.

England, Durham Cathedral
5. Although the term Romanesque has been applied to buildings throughout Europe, it does not represent a consistent or uniform style. The relationship between local practice and that employed more universally across Europe is one of the fundamental issues that confronts historians of the period. In effect the historian is presented with a tension or 'dialogue' between regionalism and universality.
[IMAGES FORTHCOMING] Here we'll insert comparative examples from France, Germany and Italy, one interior and one exterior view of three buildings
6. The reasons for change. Explanations for the development of the Romanesque style and for the creation of churches of unprecedented scale cannot be sought exclusively within the field of architecture itself. The historian of architecture has to adopt a 'contextual' approach, examining the extent to which architecture reflects more fundamental changes in society, whether they be economic, political, or religious.
7. Romanesque architecture in England: as in many areas of Europe, the Romanesque architecture of England does not present a simple or uniform picture. The differences between buildings are often more striking than their similarities. In at least three crucial respects English practice varied quite markedly:
The planning of the eastern limb of the church: this could be laid out with a semi-circular ambulatory or with apses en échelon or with some form of 'square' or flat east end, with or without an ambulatory.
The interior elevation: here there was a choice between cylindrical piers and compound piers or a compromise between the two. The choice of pier design had repercussions on the general articulation of the building and on the degree to which the various storeys were integrated together.
The ceiling: here the choice lay between a heavy stone vault (as at Durham) or some form of timber ceiling (as in the choir of Canterbury 1096–1130); most English Romanesque churches opted for the latter solution.

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