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lantern towers of normandy and elsewhere

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lantern-towers in normandy
putting a hat on it!
rouen lantern tower
other lantern tours
constructing lantern-towers and drums
ely - a very special lantern
scissor arches at wells
the spanish style
a modern lantern tower

Where the nave and transepts cross, that crossing can be surmounted by a dome or a tower, straddling the four corner pillars of the crossing.

Different f
orms of lantern tower include
at Coutances, Normandy in France - in stone
at Eely in Eastern England - in wood, and
at Burgos in Spain - a domed lantern, also called a cupola.

lantern-towers in normandy

Where the nave and transept cross, Coutances Cathedral - looking up.
Looking up at where the nave and transept cross, Coutances Cathedral
Notice the two small balconies at levels 4 and 5 in the lantern tower - it's a long way up!
(See text for labelling information)

A crossing tower is usually built on the four main pillars at the intersection of the nave and the transept. If a tower is built, the four supporting pillars tend to be much more substantial than other pillars in the cathedral. Often, the tower is built to incorporate a 'lantern'. This style seems to have been developed by the Normans, and there are several examples in the region of Normandy, including at Coutances, Evreux, Lisieux, Fecamp, and Rouen. The Normans won England in a card game, therefore you will find several lantern towers there, such as Bury St. Edmunds, Canterbury, Durham, Ely, Lincoln, Norwich, Peterborough, Salisbury, Wimborne Minister, York.

Various roofs, spires and glass insets can be seen in lantern and other towers. A lantern tower is only subject to wind loads, the buttressing within the cathedral is normally sufficient. Spire roof structures do not apply much outward pressures, as they are tied or pinned at their bases, as is done with cathedral forests. However, towers are subject to wind pressures.

Plan of Coutances cathedral
Plan of Coutances cathedral
Note the size of the pillar cross-section at nave-transept crossing

The lantern tower on Coutances cathedralWhen a gothic cathedral crossing tower is built, it is usually structurally four-sided, but sometimes is modified to other shapes. This was probably done for aesthetic reasons. An eight-sided lantern has its corners supported by pillars at the edge of the crossing. The intermediate corners may 'bend down' on arches between the pillars, or be supported on pillars, as at Ely. Coutances and Evreux have an octagonal lantern, whereas Fecamp and Rouen are of square cross-section. Countances is a considerable five-aisle, multi-level cathedral structure, and at the lantern-tower can be counted up to five levels, as is marked in the photo above. There, one of the massive pillars is marked twice with A. By comparison, Evreux cathedral is quite a 'diddy' edifice.

[There is also a second lantern in Coutances at the church of Saint Pierre.]

Note that Fecamp is rated as an abbey, rather a full cathedral. Also there are other lantern-towers at Dijon and at Laon, if you are interested and going to the east and south of Paris.

If the tower has glassed openings that let in light down to the floor of the crossing, it is called a lantern or lantern tower. Because the crossing is without supporting walls, the weight of the tower or dome rests heavily on the supporting pillars which are often massive in order to hold the weight. Sometimes a church or cathedral lantern is called an illuminated tower or a drum.

Up in these towers, there are various scary, narrow, stone stairways, wooden ladders, and tight squeeze spaces for accessing the upper storeys and what the French call 'the attic'. The Coutances' lantern tower (illustrated on right) is eight-sided, flanked by four narrow staircase turrets with corkscrew stairs to access the roof. The access towers at Coutances are about 2 metres in diameter, so you can imagine the tightness of the spiral and the squeeze of these stairs. The tower-lantern may have been originally crowned with an spire that would have been higher than those of the west facade.

Sometimes the opening of the tower is smaller than the area of the crossing, or the tower has been 'octagonalised'. The smaller opening is supported and disguised by webs projecting out from the pillars. To make such a construction sufficiently strong and stable needs very capable builders. Several crossing towers collapsed in the past when ambition was greater than the builders' skills. One such collapse was at Ely cathedral in 1322.

putting a hat on it!

Raddon et Chapendue. Image: J. MassetA thousand years ago, towers in churches could be said to be rather ambiguous. Churches were multi- purpose, and one of those purposes was as a defensive refuge. hence, you will see many a church tower with Eglise de Lauredebattlements, arrow slits and other military appurtenances not entirely devoted to worship. Towers were also used as observation posts to provide warning against approaching pests. Even during World War One, the Germans used that excuse while shelling churches and cathedrals down the Western front. Their local artillery shelled the towers for practice, boredom and sheer bloody-mindedness.

Towers were often roofless, despite the nuisances of weather. But as humans became more wonderful and civilised and sweet, and even more wealthy, all manner of decorating went up on the towers as a form of weather-proofing and status proclamation.

Thus, all across France, towers have different decorations (roofing, spires...) on top. A great number of artistic and fanciful caps can be seen, as they try to be decorative or interesting. The Burgundy region, including Haute-Saône, is well-known for their fancy coloured tiling. Rouen cathedral's variation is its huge spire.

A collection of church hats (imperial-style roofs) in the Franche-Comté region. The link is to the first of twenty-odd pages.
[Here is the complete site plan for the church hat collection linked above (in French).]


Rouen lantern towerRouen cathedral

The central lantern tower, combined with its spire, is the tallest in France at 151m or 495 ft. Building started in the thirteenth century, the spire being raised in the sixteenth century. The present cast iron spire was raised in 1876 to replace the previous wooden spire, covered in gilded lead, which had been placed there in 1544. That wooden spire had been destroyed by fire in 1822.

From Rouen, It’s [sic] History and Monuments, A Guide to Strangers by Théodore Licquet, 1847, reprint 2007

“We cannot give too many praises to the zeal of M. de Vansay, prefect of the department at that time: the misfortune happened on the 15th september, and already on the 26th of the same month, the government having been informed and solicited by that magistrate, ordered M. Alavoine, one of the best architects, to go to Rouen, and confer with the prefect on the means of remedying the havoc caused by the fire. Early in the year 1823, the roofs of a aisles had already been repaired; and a portion of the nave had been covered with lead, by the 15th march of the same year. The roofs of the choir and of the whole transept, were also soon repaired; but, for these parts, a copper covering was preferred as being more solid and less liable to be destroyed. The raising and renewing the lantern was terminated in 1829.

“From this new platform, the pyramid will rise majestically in the air, and of it we already discover thirteen floors (the pyramid will be completed with one more), each of four metres fifty centimetres, that is to say a height of fifty eight metres, or about one hundred and eighty feet. The spire of the church was first erected of stone but was overthrown by the electric fluid, after that, it was twice built of wood, and both times it became the prey of the flames; to rebuild it with wood would have been gathering materials for a third fire, but now it is made of cast iron and in open work. At the summit of the spire, there will be a small lantern surrounded by a gallery for the purpose of meteorological observations. The total weight of the spire when completed, will be 600,000 kilogrammes, or about 1,200,000 pounds. It is composed of 2,540 pieces, not including 12,879 iron pins[13]. Lastly, this magnificent pyramid will reach an elevation of 436 feet; that is to say 40 feet higher than the former, and will only be 13 feet less than the highest pyramid of Egypt.

“[Footnote 13: The whole of these pieces of iron were cast at the foundry at Conches, a small town, which is situated at about twelve leagues from Rouen, and the expense is valued at 500,000 francs.]

Elise Whitlock Rose commented about the lantern tower:

"No truly artistic ideals disturbed the minds of the XIX century builders. They remembered only the perils of lightning and fire, and raised a spire which had every justification of sense and economy, but which, from an architectural point of view, is a hideous monstrosity. Unfortunately, it is of iron and will probably persist, to show to succeeding generations that the early XIX century was no less barbarous in its utilitarianism than the XVIII century was in its pseudo-classicism."
[p.353, Cathedrals and cloisters of the Isle de France, vol II by Elise Whitlock Rose]

other lantern towers

Lantern-tower, Evreux. Image: Jacques Mossot
Lantern-tower, Evreux (Normandie). Image: Jacques Mossot

Right : Lantern-tower, Laon (Aisne)

  Lantern-tower, Evreux. Image: Structurae - Jacques Mossot

Cathédrale Saint Pierre de Lisieux

Be careful not to confuse this 13th century, gothic cathedral with the modern, vulgar Christmas cake erected to Sainte Thérèse of Lisieux [1873-1897]. In fact, she attended the Norman cathedral with her parents. In the cathedral, the pews where Thérèse's family sat, at least in the past, were pointed out to visitors by church staff - I do not know whether this still occurs. Incidently, Thérèse's parents have also been recently sainted [2015]. Theresa was one of five sisters, who all became nuns.

The Christmas cake - the Basilique Sainte Thérèse de Lisieux [constructed 1929-1954] - was endowed with one of Thérèse's arms as a saint's relic by Pope Pius XI during its opening ceremony of the basilica. How he came by it I'm not certain.

constructing lantern-towers and drums

Illustrating a drum, exterior of Angeloume cathedralThe nave-transept crossng is essentially a large, wall-less, square room. Adding an circular or octagonal drum or lantern, or a hemispherical dome, above it, requires a three-dimensional solution to join the two parts together and provide adequate support for the superstructure.

A dome or a tower can surmount the intersection of nave and transepts, straddling its four corner pillars marking the 'corners' of the nave-transept 'room'.
A tower can be regarded as an enlongated drum.
When the drum or tower has glassed openings letting in light onto the floor of the crossing, it is called a lantern or lantern tower.
Lantern openings can be at any level within a drum structure.

Pendentives are one such solution, squinches are another. Pendentives are simpler in appearance, but more complex in their geometry.

Illustrating pendentives, Perigeux cathedrall

Pendentives are concave, triangular segments of a sphere, reminiscent of a sail. Being inverted triangles, they taper to a point at the base and spread at the top. Thus, the upper side of the four pendentives together are a major part of the continuous circular base needed to support a dome above a square room.

Another, earlier solution to the transition between a square base and a round or octagonal upper part is the squinch, a wedge of masonry, often hollowed-out, filling in the corner space at the top of the square walls and below the base of the dome or drum

A squinch is an architectural construction that built across an interior angle of a square room to become part of a base for supporting an octagonal or hemispherical dome. There are several construction methods and styles. .

Squinches may be formed by masonry built out from the internal angle in corbelled courses, by filling the corner with a cone placed diagonally, or by building an arch or several concentric arches extending outwards across the corner.

[See Pedentives, squinches, drums, domes and lanterns for illustration and further discussion.]

ely - a very special lantern

Wooden skeleton of Ely cathedral lantern tower
Wooden skeleton of Ely cathedral lantern tower
[image : English cathedral carpentry]

A very special and unusual lantern can be seen at Ely, built after the collapse of the Norman lantern tower at Ely [Eely] in 1322. The repairs and development were made from around 1325 to 1340. The replacement was a very particular and new design built in wood by the brilliant carpenters of Merry England. It was rebuilt in its modern, truly impressive form under the supervision of Alan of Walsingham.

The structure is rather like a matchstick model, but on a greater scale, resting on and in the tower on corbels. Such a model can be surprisingly rigid and, of course, is far lighter then a stone tower. This is despite the matches being quite enormous compared with those you can buy at the Seven-Eleven.

The square-sectioned lantern-tower was supported by four pillars, which was replaced by the octagonal (eight-sided) lantern-tower is supported by eight pillars.

Diagram of Ely cathedral's pillar supports for previous and current lantern-towers
Diagram of Ely cathedral's pillar supports for previous and current lantern-towers

There are guided tours available for visitors to go into the galleries in the lantern-tour.

scissor arches at wells

Wells cathedral, in the south-west of England, was founded in 1083, its construction continuing until about 1450. The particularity of Wells are the scissor arches which, though they look very modern, were constucted in the 14th century to reinforce the high lantern above the nave. The lantern tower rises to 52 metres (170 ft) high and is 23 metres (76 ft) wide, with an interior height of 43 metres (142 ft). The scissor arches are situated at the west end of the chancel.

The scissor arches at Wells Cathedral
The scissor arches at Wells Cathedral,
looking north across the nave from the south transept.

Looking up at the lantern tower, Wells Cathedral
Looking up at the lantern tower, Wells Cathedral
A set of scissor arches are on the right side of the lantern in this image,
while the three other sides of the lantern have windows.

the spanish style

Notice the similarity of the dome lanterns below to lantern towers .

Domed lantern-tower at Valencia, Spain. Image: GFDL, sacred-destinations.com   Cupula de la capilla de los Condestables, Burgos Cathedral
Cupula de la capilla de los Condestables, Burgos Cathedral

Left : Domed lantern-tower at Valencia, Spain. Image: GFDL, sacred-destinations.com

a modern lantern tower

Here is a version from the modern world of reinforced concrete and slab glass at Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral, opened in 1967. This lantern is also called the 'corona'. The dalle de verre stained glass of the suspended lantern tower was executed by John Piper and Patrick Reyntiens. The stained glass is cemented together with epoxy resin and pre-case within tracery of thin concrete ribs. During restoration work in the 1990s, The aluminium in the lantern was replaced by stainless steel.

Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral. Image: Chowells
Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral. Image: Chowells


A Promise of Beauty: The Octagon Tower and Lantern at Ely Cathedral

A Promise of Beauty: The Octagon Tower and Lantern at Ely Cathedral
by Michael White

FrameCharge Press, 2007, pbk
ISBN-10: 0955577705
ISBN-13: 978-0955577703


C.A. Hewett has put out three, steadily expanding versions of his book of cathedral carpentry.

  • English cathedral carpentry, 1974
  • English historic carpentry, 1980
  • English cathedral and monastic carpentry, 1985

A life's enthusiasm.

A rough outline can presently be found here:
Wooden Octagonal Lantern Tower of Ely Cathedral
[C.A. Hewett, English Cathedral Carpentry (London, 1974), pp. 82-9]

La cathédrale de Coutances

La cathédrale de Coutances
by Patrice Colmet Daage

 H. Laurens, 2nd edition, 1967, pbk


L'Eglise de la Trinité de Fécamp by J Vallery-Radot

L'Eglise de la Trinité de Fécamp
by Jean Vallery-Radot

H. Laurens, 1991, pbk

ISBN-10: 2862681016
ISBN-13: 978-2862681016



L'Eglise de la Trinité de Fécamp by J Vallery-Radot

La Cathédrale d'Evreux
by G. Bonnenfant

Henri Laurens, Paris, pbk, approx. 1900s

(series: Petites monographies des grands édifices de la France)


L'Eglise de la Trinité de Fécamp by J Vallery-Radot

La Cathédrale de Rouen
by Armand Loisel

Henri Laurens, Paris, pbk, approx. 1900s

(series: Petites monographies des grands édifices de la France)


marker cathedrals – introduction: reading stained glass
marker gothic cathedral and church construction
marker cathedrals, an illustrated glossary
marker Chartres - wonder of the world
marker Notre Dame de Paris, Paris
marker lantern towers of Normandy and elsewhere
marker history of ugly stained glass: Auch, Bazas, Dreux
marker Auch cathedral choir and stalls
marker Rouen and Monet
marker at France pages Dax and church iconography marker photographs, Dax
marker Bazas - iconography and architectural styles
marker Poitiers, neglected masterpiece marker photographs, Poitiers / photos 2
marker Angers, heart of the Angevin Empire marker photographs, Angers
marker Laon, the midst of the gothic transition, with added oxen marker photographs, Laon
marker Saint-Jean-Baptiste de Lyon
marker Notre Dame of Lausanne
marker Senlis - how a typical cathedral changes through the ages
marker Saint-Bertrand-de-Comminges - the cathedral of the Pyrenees
marker Cathedrale Saint-Gatien at Tours

marker Le Mans and Bourges cathedrals - medieval space technology
marker Lausanne rose window - photo-analysis
marker cathedrals in Lorraine - the Three Bishoprics
marker cathedral giants - Amiens and Beauvais
marker Clermont-Ferrand and Agde - from volcanoes to cathedrals

marker Germans in France - Arras cathedral
marker Germans in France - Reims cathedral
marker Germans in France - St. Quentin cathedral
marker Germans in France - Noyon cathedral
marker Germans in France - Cambrai cathedral
marker Germans in France - Soissons cathedral

marker cathedral plans, and facts
marker stone in church and cathedral construction
marker using metal in gothic cathedral construction
marker cathedral labyrinths and mazes in France
marker cathedrals and cloisters of Franceby Elise Whitlock Rose
marker the perpendicular or English style of cathedral
marker Romanesque churches and cathedrals in south-west France

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