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Romanesque churches and cathedrals in south-west France

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Tours, Poitiers and going southwards

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index
interesting religious buildings in southern half of France
overview
domes, their pendentives, squinches, drums, and lanterns
capitals
examples of the Romanesque church or cathedral in south-west France
victims of the French Revolution
bibliography
end notes

interesting religious buildings in southern half of France

 
Map of towns and cities associated with interesting religious buildings, southern half of France
Map of towns and cities associated with interesting religious buildings in southern half of France

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New translation, the Magna Carta

 

"It is well known that the south and south-west of France had during the early middle-ages commercial relations with the Byzantine empire and especially with Venice where alone in Italy the traditions of Byzantine art lingered, and these countries were then the great mercantile centres of Europe. A colony of Venetian merchants was planted at Limoges about 988-9: their goods were brought to Aigues-Mortes on the Gulf of Lyon [lion], whence by mules and wagons they were conveyed to Limoges and forwarded to the north of France and from Rochelle to the British Isles. The Venetians had a bourse [stock exchange] at Limoges, and their memory was preserved in the names of the streets and gates even after they themselves had disappeared.

Aigues- Mortes. Image credit: Marc Ryckaert via wiki commons
Aigues-Mortes. Image credit: Marc Ryckaert via wiki commons

"It cannot be mere coincidence that it was along this line of commerce with the East that we find a school of architecture in France which deliberately made the dome a principle in church architecture; though Saint Front [Périgueux] alone has adopted the plan of a Byzantine church [Saint Mark's at Venice] as well as the domical covering."
[p.37, vol. 2, Jackson ]
[Byzantine and Romanesque architecture by T. G. Jackson, 1913]

overview

You can trace a line of development from the early Roman and pagan temples, renamed oratories, then extended into Christian churches and, eventually, into cathedrals.

Floor plan  of the oratory at Germigny-des-Prés
Floor plan of the oratory at Germigny-des-Prés

In the diagram above, you can see the oratory becoming the apse and nave of the proto-church

The great break-through came with thr pointed arch, leading to the walls of windows and light of the great Gothic revival in the mid-twelfth century.

Prior to the Gothic revival were Romanesque edifices, which you enter and see the highlight of the altar. This was the domain of priests and monks, viewed from the mysterious half light where the people gathered in the nave. Thus was the great transition in interior decoration, mood, and culture, sometimes called the mediaeval renaissance.

Vezelay cathedral interior
Vezelay cathedral interior

Go back a thousand years and more people could not read, so much education and communication was through pictures in one form or another. Humans love colour, so the various illustrative media used the latest colour available, though some colours were not cheap or easily available. Thus, most common colours tended be earth (mud) colours of varying levels of red, brown, yellow, etc.

The illustrations were in hand-made books, as stained glass, on wall paintings and mosaics, as sculpture. The public would meet in the church and learn from the moral tales of the bible by looking at all the coloured art surrounding them.

There were blues and violets back in the high civilisation of Egypt, but these were expensive for more backward societies. As those societies increased in wealth and technology, so richer and more expensive colours appeared, glass and the glassification of mosaics became more readily available. From the 14th century, printing steadily advanced and books became more available for the masses.

The medieval church was a riot of colour, even the columns were painted in patterns. Many of the patterns were copied straight from woven cloths. The carvings on the capitals developed from plant life and imagined animals as well as bible stories, making the churches interesting and entertaining for the customers.

t-Bertrand-en-Comminges    Smiling lions on a column's capital 

 

domes, their pendentives, squinches, drums, and lanterns

Bridging the difference
Cathedrals are built as a series of square 'rooms' without internal walls and with columns at the corners of each 'room'.

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

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

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

However, be well aware that there is a great range of constructions to solve this architectural problem, where bands of stone might be decorative or could be structural - is a horizontal band a drum or just prettifying and tidying up, for instance? Here, we endeavour to explain and illustrate the graduations, differences and similarities to be found when looking at pedentives, squinches, drums, domes and lanterns, rather than continuing the verbal hand-waving often to be found, done to to distract from lack of clarity, precision, or knowledge.

Pendentive
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.

Architectural definition of pendentive: one of the concave triangular members that support a dome over a square space.

[Etymology: used from early 18th century. Coming from the French adjective pendentif-ive, which is derived from the Latin pendent-, pendens (‘hanging down’). Present participle of the verb pendēre, to suspend.]

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.

Illustrating squinches in context, Le Puy catherdralSquinch
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.

Translated from Viollet Le-Duc: Squinch stacked wedges, having the shape of a shell, that are used for corbelling. The builders of the Middle Ages made great use of squinches to carry eight-pointed stone spires on square towers, watch-towers on the facades, corbelled turrets; they used squinches instead of pendentives to build cupolas on doublet arches resting on four piles.

Illustrating a drum, exterior of Angeloume cathedral

The dome of Eglise Saint-Croix at Oleron-Sainte-Marie
Above : The dome (marked with an arrow) of Eglise Saint-Croix at Oleron-Sainte-Marie

Right : Shell squinches in the corners of the dome of Eglise Saint-Croix at Oleron-Sainte-Marie
(photoed in deep interior gloom)

Squinches  beneath the dome of Eglise Saint-Croix at Oleron-Sainte-Marie

 

capitals

The capital is the top protruding stones, the head of a column. The capital spreads the load to the structures above, providing the transition from column to lintel or arch (see below left). For thousands of years, the capital has been an excuse for all manner of artistic decoration. Originating in ancient Greece, different styles are named after the period when they were prevalent.

By the 11th century A.D., historiated or figured capitals appeared, decorated with humans, animals, birds and foliage.

Moses capital, Saint-Nectaire

Above: Moses found in the Nile capital, Saint-Nectaire
Note the ferocious crocodile.Will he eat the baby Moses?

 

Right: David and the lion capital, Vezelay
See the rescued lamb to the left.

 

David and the lion capital, Vezelay
Daniel in the lion's den

 

Three interpretations of Daniel in the lions' den

Left : Daniel in the lion's den, Abbaye de la Sauve Majeure
Little wonder Daniel is looking complacent, as God closed up the jaws of the lions. Things did not go so well for his rivals who had conspired to get him into this pickle.

 

Below left : Daniel in the lion's den, Airvault

Below : Daniel in the lion's den, MoissacDaniel in the lion's den

Daniel in the lion's den,Airvault

The Protest-ant sects widely teach the Old Testament whereas, nowadays, the Catholic Church treats the Old Testament as forerunner,and concentrates on the New Testament for dogma and teaching. It is fascinating that in Romanesque times (that is, prior to about 1170), Old Testament themes predominated in these pre-12th century industrial revolution times. By the time of Chartres, astrology signs, lives of saints, the seasonal cycles including farming and production, are somewhat replacing monsters and imagination.

examples of the Romanesque church or cathedral in south-west France

Romanesque religious buildings have several particular characteristics, of which the Roman arch is one. The Roman arch is a hemispherical, thus the width of the arch at its base is twice its height.

at Bordeaux

Saint-Croix, Bordeaux (print dates from 1841)
Saint-Croix, Bordeaux (print dates from 1841)

Detail of the portail arch at Saint-Croix, Bordeaux. Image credit: Jcdelorge via wiki commons
Detail of the portail arch at Saint-Croix, Bordeaux. Image credit: Jcdelorge via wiki commons

Note how the personages in the top row are almost all bent over in order to fit the space available. However, this is not always the case, as can be seen in the detail from another portail just below.

Detail of the portail arch at the cathedral Sainte-Marie, Oleron-Sainte-Marie. Image credit: Mossot via wiki commons
Detail of the portail arch at the cathedral Sainte-Marie, Oleron-Sainte-Marie.
Image credit: Mossot via wiki commons

Saint Nectaire (puy-de-dome)

Oleron-Sainte-Marie, near Pau

The cathedral of Sainte-Marie is situated in the centre of the lower, main town.The main portail is worth seeing.

The church of Saint-Croix is located at the top of the steep hill with narrow roads. Being on the St Jacques de Compostella pilgrimage, the dome squinches are in the form of shells. The floor is paved with ancient gravestones, now uncovered after a previous curé covered the church's floor with then new-fangled tarmac.

Airvault

Tournus

Saint-Savin (sur Gartempe), near Poitiers

Probably the best fresco site in France.

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Building the Tower of Babel
Building the Tower of Babel
The fresco is rather Escher-esque, with the man on the right in the green robe
passing a (heavy) stone to a builder at the top of the tower.
 

Saint-Martin-de-Cuxa, near Perpignan

***

perigueux

civray

angeloume

victims of the French Revolution

Autun cathedral : The tympanum is in good condition, mainly because it was plastered over in the eighteenth century and so survived the French Revolution. The tympanum was rediscovered in 1837 and restored, but the head of Christ was missing because the plasterers decided it protruded too much. The head was only found in 1948, when it was put back in place.
[See Strafford, p.51]

Ganagobie priory church: Home to splendid 12th-century mosaics. The monastery buildings and church were sold off by the French Revolutionaries. Then, the eastern end was deliberately destroyed in 1794, which resulted in the mosaics being covered by rubble and forgotten. Only in the 1890s were they rediscovered and were photographed. The mosaics were then recovered by earth to protect them. In 1975, monks moved back and started restoring the church.
[See Strafford, p.288]

Saint Michel de Cuxa: Many of the capitals are now on display in New York. They had been dispersed around southern France when the cloister was dismantled, then purchased from a number of 'owners' by George Barnard and brought to the Metropolitan Museum using Rockefeller money. The cloister has been partially rebuilt recently with column and capitals that have been recovered in France.
[See Strafford, p.341]

 

bibliography

Fresques romanes des Églises de France
introduction de Paul-Henri Michel

Fresques romanes des Églises de France

éditions du Chêne, hbk, 1949

1974 edition
éditions  Guy Le Prat, hbk

ISBN-10: 2852050056
ISBN-13: 978-2852050051

amazon.com
amazon.co.uk

 

Romanesque churches of France, a traveller's guide
by Peter Strafford
Romanesque churches of France, a traveller's guide by Peter Strafford

 Giles de la Mare Publishers, pbk 2005

ISBN-10: 1900357240
ISBN-13: 978-1900357241

shipping weight: 1.6 lb

$24.27 [amazon.com]
£15.99 [amazon.co.uk]

 

Songs of glory, the Romanesque façades of Aquitaine
by Linda Seidel
Songs of glory, the Romanesque façades of Aquitaine

University of Chicago Press, pbk, 1988

ISBN-10: 0226745147
ISBN-13: 978-0226745145

shipping weight: 12.6 ounces (!)

$37.95 [amazon.com]
amazon.co.uk

 

 

end notes

  1. Le Golfe de Lion is the French name for this part of the Mediterranean Sea. The English (anglophile) name is the Gulf of Lyon. Incorrectly, and confusingly, the Gulf of Lyon can be called "the Gulf of Lyons", as in the quotation above.
    Etymology: There are two theories for the origin of this name:
    1. The gulf is named after the large cathedral city of Lyon, which lies on the major river, the Rhone. The Rhone empties into the Mediterranean Sea at this gulf. However, this theory is often rejected because Lyon is seen as "too far" from France's southern coast. Said to have been started to flatter the city of Lyon, this usage disappeared by 1900.
    2. The gulf's present name derives from the Middle Ages, coming from the medieval Latin name sinus Leonis or mare Leonis. Found in several historic sources dating back to the 13th century, the suggestion is that the waters were being compared with a lion. This part of the Mediterranean Sea can be regarded as dangerous as a lion thanks to the violent and capricious winds (principally the mistral) that threaten shipping, and in particular small fishing boats.

    In Roman times, the classical Latin name was sinus Gallicus, that is, "Gaulish Gulf".

  2. Useful site for the history of artist's colour.

  3. Modern printing began in the fifteenth century after the invention of the printing press by Johannes Gutenberg (1398-1468).
    Other earlier societies in China and Egypt used stamps that were then used to print on cloth. Later on the Chinese began to use wooden blocks to print onto silk.
    In 1476, a printing press was set up in England by William Caxton.

  4. Exodus 2, King James Version (KJV)
    1. And there went a man of the house of Levi, and took to wife a daughter of Levi.
    2. And the woman conceived, and bare a son: and when she saw him that he was a goodly child, she hid him three months.:
    3. And when she could not longer hide him, she took for him an ark of bulrushes, and daubed it with slime and with pitch, and put the child therein; and she laid it in the flags by the river's brink.
    4.  And his sister stood afar off, to wit what would be done to him.
    5. And the daughter of Pharaoh came down to wash herself at the river; and her maidens walked along by the river's side; and when she saw the ark among the flags, she sent her maid to fetch it.
    6. And when she had opened it, she saw the child: and, behold, the babe wept. And she had compassion on him, and said, This is one of the Hebrews' children.
    7. Then said his sister to Pharaoh's daughter, Shall I go and call to thee a nurse of the Hebrew women, that she may nurse the child for thee?
    8. And Pharaoh's daughter said to her, Go. And the maid went and called the child's mother.
    9. And Pharaoh's daughter said unto her, Take this child away, and nurse it for me, and I will give thee thy wages. And the women took the child, and nursed it.
    10. And the child grew, and she brought him unto Pharaoh's daughter, and he became her son. And she called his name Moses: and she said, Because I drew him out of the water.

  5. 1 Samuel 17:34-36, King James Version (KJV)
    1. And David said unto Saul, Thy servant kept his father's sheep, and there came a lion, and a bear, and took a lamb out of the flock:
    2. And I went out after him, and smote him, and delivered it out of his mouth: and when he arose against me, I caught him by his beard, and smote him, and slew him.

  6. Daniel 6, King James Version (KJV)
    1. It pleased Darius to set over the kingdom an hundred and twenty princes, which should be over the whole kingdom;
    2. And over these three presidents; of whom Daniel was first: that the princes might give accounts unto them, and the king should have no damage.
    3. Then this Daniel was preferred above the presidents and princes, because an excellent spirit was in him; and the king thought to set him over the whole realm.
    4. Then the presidents and princes sought to find occasion against Daniel concerning the kingdom; but they could find none occasion nor fault; forasmuch as he was faithful, neither was there any error or fault found in him.
    5. Then said these men, We shall not find any occasion against this Daniel, except we find it against him concerning the law of his God.
    6. Then these presidents and princes assembled together to the king, and said thus unto him, King Darius, live for ever.
    7. All the presidents of the kingdom, the governors, and the princes, the counsellors, and the captains, have consulted together to establish a royal statute, and to make a firm decree, that whosoever shall ask a petition of any God or man for thirty days, save of thee, O king, he shall be cast into the den of lions.
    8. Now, O king, establish the decree, and sign the writing, that it be not changed, according to the law of the Medes and Persians, which altereth not.
    9. Wherefore king Darius signed the writing and the decree.
    10. Now when Daniel knew that the writing was signed, he went into his house; and his windows being open in his chamber toward Jerusalem, he kneeled upon his knees three times a day, and prayed, and gave thanks before his God, as he did aforetime.
    11. Then these men assembled, and found Daniel praying and making supplication before his God.
    12. Then they came near, and spake before the king concerning the king's decree; Hast thou not signed a decree, that every man that shall ask a petition of any God or man within thirty days, save of thee, O king, shall be cast into the den of lions? The king answered and said, The thing is true, according to the law of the Medes and Persians, which altereth not.
    13. Then answered they and said before the king, That Daniel, which is of the children of the captivity of Judah, regardeth not thee, O king, nor the decree that thou hast signed, but maketh his petition three times a day.
    14. Then the king, when he heard these words, was sore displeased with himself, and set his heart on Daniel to deliver him: and he laboured till the going down of the sun to deliver him.
    15. Then these men assembled unto the king, and said unto the king, Know, O king, that the law of the Medes and Persians is, That no decree nor statute which the king establisheth may be changed.
    16. Then the king commanded, and they brought Daniel, and cast him into the den of lions. Now the king spake and said unto Daniel, Thy God whom thou servest continually, he will deliver thee.
    17. And a stone was brought, and laid upon the mouth of the den; and the king sealed it with his own signet, and with the signet of his lords; that the purpose might not be changed concerning Daniel.
    18. Then the king went to his palace, and passed the night fasting: neither were instruments of musick brought before him: and his sleep went from him.
    19. Then the king arose very early in the morning, and went in haste unto the den of lions.
    20. And when he came to the den, he cried with a lamentable voice unto Daniel: and the king spake and said to Daniel, O Daniel, servant of the living God, is thy God, whom thou servest continually, able to deliver thee from the lions?
    21. Then said Daniel unto the king, O king, live for ever.
    22.  My God hath sent his angel, and hath shut the lions' mouths, that they have not hurt me: forasmuch as before him innocency was found in me; and also before thee, O king, have I done no hurt.
    23. Then was the king exceedingly glad for him, and commanded that they should take Daniel up out of the den. So Daniel was taken up out of the den, and no manner of hurt was found upon him, because he believed in his God.
    24. And the king commanded, and they brought those men which had accused Daniel, and they cast them into the den of lions, them, their children, and their wives; and the lions had the mastery of them, and brake all their bones in pieces or ever they came at the bottom of the den.
    25. Then king Darius wrote unto all people, nations, and languages, that dwell in all the earth; Peace be multiplied unto you.
    26. I make a decree, That in every dominion of my kingdom men tremble and fear before the God of Daniel: for he is the living God, and stedfast for ever, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed, and his dominion shall be even unto the end.
    27. He delivereth and rescueth, and he worketh signs and wonders in heaven and in earth, who hath delivered Daniel from the power of the lions.
    28. So this Daniel prospered in the reign of Darius, and in the reign of Cyrus the Persia.

      See also The Daniel Jazz by Vachel Lindsay

  7. xxx
    xxx
 

marker cathedrals – introduction: reading stained glass
marker gothic cathedral and church construction
marker cathedrals, an illustrated glossary
marker Chartres - wonder of the world
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marker history of ugly stained glass: Auch, Bazas, Dreux
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marker at France pages Dax and church iconography marker photographs, Dax
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marker Senlis - how a typical cathedral changes through the ages
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marker Le Mans and Bourges cathedrals - medieval space technology
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marker cathedrals in Lorraine - the Three Bishoprics
marker cathedral giants - Amiens and Beauvais
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marker Germans in France - Arras cathedral
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marker cathedral plans, and facts
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marker cathedral labyrinths and mazes in France
marker cathedrals and cloisters of France by Elise Whitlock Rose

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