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Romanesque Architecture

A great deal of conjecture has been expended on the question as to the
genesis of the Roman basilica. For present purposes it may be sufficient to
observe that the addition of aisles to the nave was so manifest a
convenience that it might not improbably have been thought of, even had
models not been at hand in the civic buildings of the Empire. The most
suitable example that can be chosen as typical of the Roman basilica of the
age of Constantine is the church of S. Maria Maggiore. And this, not merely
because, in spite of certain modern alterations, it has kept in the main its
original features, but also because it departs, to a lesser extent than any
other extant example, from the classical ideal. The lateral colonnade is
immediately surmounted by a horizontal entablature, with architrave, frieze,
and cornice all complete. The monolithic columns, with their capitals, are,
moreover, homogenous, and have been cut for their position, instead of
being like those of so many early Christian churches, the more or less
incongruous and heterogeneous spoils of older and non-Christian edifices.

Of this church, in its original form, no one however decidedly his tastes
may incline to some more highly developed system or style of architecture
will call in question the stately and majestic beauty. The general effect is
that of a vast perspective of lines of noble columns, carrying the eye
forward to the altar, which, with its civory or canopy, forms so conspicuous
an object, standing, framed, as it mere, within the arch of the terminal apse,
which forms its immediate and appropriate background.
S. Maria Maggiore is considerably smaller than were any of the other three
chief basilicas of Rome (St Peter’s, St. Paul’s, and the Lateran). Each of
these, in addition to a nave of greater length and breadth, was furnished (as
may still be seen in the restored St Paul’s) with a double aisle. This,
however, was an advantage which was not unattended with a serious
drawback from a purely esthetic point of view. For a great space of blank
wall intervening between the top of the lateral colonnade and the clerestory
windows was of necessity required in order to give support to the
penthouse roof of the double aisle. And it is curious, to say the least, that it
should not have occurred to the builders of those three basilicas to utilize a
portion of the space thus enclosed, and at the same time to lighten the
burden of the wall above the colonnade, by constructing a gallery above the
inner aisle. It is true, of course, that such a gallery is found in the church of
S. Agnese, where the low-level of the floor relatively to the surface of the
ground outside may have suggested this method of construction; but
whereas, in the East, the provision of a gallery (used as a gynaeceum) was
usual from very early times, it never became otherwise than exceptional in
the West. Taking East and West together, we find among early and medieval
basilican churches examples of all the combinations that are possible in the
arrangement of aisles and galleries. They are
the single aisle without gallery, which is, of course, the commonest
type of all;
the double aisle without gallery, as in the three great Roman basilicas;
the single aisle with gallery, as in S. Agnese;
the double aisle with single gallery, as in St. Demetrius at
and finally, as a crowning example, though of a later period, the
double aisle surmounted by a double gallery, as in the Duomo at Pisa.
These, however, are modifications in the general design of the building.

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Others, not less important, though they are less obviously striking, concern
the details of the construction. Of these the first was the substitution of the
arch for the horizontal entablature, and the second that of the pillar of
masonry for the monolithic column. The former change, which had already
come into operation in the first basilica of St. Paul without the Walls, was
so obviously in the nature of an improvement in point of stability that it is
no matter for surprise that it should have been almost. universally adopted.

Colonnaded and arcaded basilicas, as we may call them, for the most part
older than the eleventh century, are to be found in the most widely distant
regions, from Syria to Spain, and from Sicily to Saxony; and the lack of
examples in Southern France is probably due to the destructive invasion of
the Saracens and Northmen and to the building of new churches of a
different type, in the eleventh and succeeding centuries, on the ruins of the
old. The change from column to pillar, though in many cases it was no doubt
necessitated by lack of suitable materials — for the supply of ready-made
monoliths from pagan buildings was not inexhaustible — proved, in fact, the
germ of future development; for from the plain square support to the
recessed pillar, and from this again to the grouped shafts of the Gothic
cathedrals of later times, the progress can be quite plainly traced.
Mention should here be made of a class of basilican churches, in which as
in S. Miniato, outside Florence, and in S. Zenone, Verona, pillars or
grouped shafts alternate, at fixed intervals, with simple columns, and serve
the purpose of affording support to transverse arches spanning the whole
width of the nave; a first step, it may be observed, to continuous vaulting.
Something must now be said of the very important alterations which the
eastern end of the basilican church underwent in the process of development
from the Roman to what may conveniently be grouped together under the
designation of Romanesque types. When, in studying the ground-plan of a
Roman basilica, we pass from the nave and aisles to what lies beyond them,
only two forms of design present themselves. In the great majority of
instances the terminal apse opens immediately on the nave, with the
necessary result, so far as internal arrangements are concerned, that the
choir, as we should call it, was an enclosure, quite unconnected with the
architecture of the building, protruding forwards into the body of the church,
as may still be seen in the church of S. Clemente in Rome. In the four
greater basilicas, however, as well as in a few other instances, a transept
was interposed between the nave and the apse, affording adequate space for
the choir in its central portion, while its arms (which did not project beyond
the aisles) served the purpose implied in the terms senatorium and
matroneum. Now it is noteworthy that the transept of a Roman basilica is,
architecturally speaking, simply an oblong hall, crossing the nave at its
upper extremity, and forming with it a T-shaped cross, or crux immissa, but
having no organic structural relation with it. But it was only necessary to
equalize the breadth of transept and nave, so that their crossing became a
perfect square, in order to give to this crossing a definite structural
character, by strengthening the pieces at the four angles of the crossing, and
making them the basis of a more or less conspicuous tower. And this was
one of the most characteristic innovation or improvements introduced by the
Romanesque builders of Northern Europe. In fact, however, before this
stage of development was reached, the older basilican design had
undergone another modification. For the simple apse, opening immediately
to the transept, church builders of all parts of Europe had already in the
eighth century substituted a projecting chancel, forming a fourth limb of the
cross, which now definitively assumed the form of the crux commissa, by
contrast with the crux immissa of the Roman basilica. The earliest example
of a perfectly quadrate crossing, with a somewhat rudimentary tower,
appears to have been the minster of Fulda, built about A. D. 800. It was
quickly followed by St. Gall (830), Hersfeld (831), and Werden (875); but
nearly two centuries were to elapse before the cruciform arrangement, even
in the case of more important churches, can be said to have gained general
acceptance (Dehio and v. Bezold, Die kirchliche Baukunst des
Abendlandes, I, 161).
The differences which have already been mentioned were, however, by no
means the only ones which distinguished the Romanesque from the Roman
transept. The transept of a Romanesque church, especially of those which
were attached to monasteries, was usually provided with one or more
apses, projecting from the east side of its northern and southern arms; and
from this it appears, plainly enough, that the purpose, or at least a principal
purpose, of the medieval transept, was to make provision for subsidiary
altars and chapels. A pair of transept apses, projecting eastwards, already
makes its appearance at Hersfeld and Werden. At Bernay, Boscherville (St-
Georges), and Cerisy-la-For?t (St-Vigor), each arm of the transept has two
eastern apses, corresponding respectively to the aisle and to the projecting
arm. The same arrangement is found also at Tarragona. At La Charit?, a
priory dependent on Cluny, each arm had three apses, so that there were
seven in all, immediately contiguous to one another, and varying in depth
from the central to the northern and southern members of the system. The
plan of Cluny itself was that of a cross with two transverse beams. Of the
western transept each arm had two apses; of the eastern each had three, two
projecting eastwards and one terminal. Saint-Beno?t-sur-Loire had likewise
a double transept, furnished on the same principle with six subsidiary
apses. Among English cathedrals — it may here be mentioned — both
Canterbury and Norwich have a single chapel projecting from each arm of
their respective transepts; and at E1y the Galilee porch, which has the
form of a western transept, opens eastwards into two apsidal chapels,
contiguous on either side to the main walls of the cathedral.
Far more important in their bearing on the later history of architecture than
these developments of the transept were certain changes which gradually
took place in connection with the chancel. It is not unusual in Romanesque
churches, to find the chancel flanked, like the nave, with aisles, terminating
in apsidal or square-ended chapels. But in more considerable edifices
especially in France, the aisle is often carried round as an ambulatory
behind the chancel apse; and when this is the case, the ambulatory most
commonly opens into a series of radiating chapels. These are, in the earliest
examples, entirely separate from one another, being sometimes two or four,
but more usually three or five, in number. In later examples the number of
chapels increases to seven or even nine; and they are then contiguous,
forming a complete corona or chevet.
The first beginnings of this system go back to so early a date as the fifth
century. De Rossi has argued, apparently on good grounds, that some early
Roman, Italian, and African basilicas were furnished with an ambulatory
round the apse. This form of design, however, was soon abandoned in Italy,
and in the Romanesque pre-Gothic period it cannot be said to have been
usual anywhere except in France, where it proved a seed rich with the
promise of future developments. The earliest instance of its adoption there
was almost certainly the ancient church of St-Martin of Tours, as rebuilt by
Bishop Perpetuus in A. D. 470. This edifice, as Quicherat has shown, had a
semicircular ambulatory at the back of the altar, in which, a few years later,
was placed the tomb of Perpetuus himself. From Tours the type seems to
have passed to Clermont-Ferrand (Sts. Vitalis and Agricola), and thence,
many centuries later, to Orl?ans (St-Aignan, 1029). Meanwhile, in 997, the
church of St. Martin had been rebuilt, and in the foundations of this edifice,
which can still be traced, we find what is probably the earliest example of a
chevet or corona of radiating chapels. It served, in its turn, in the course of
the following century, as the model, in this respect, of Notre-Dame de la
Couture at Le Mans (c. 1000), St-Remi at Reims (c. 1010), St-Savin at
Saint Savin (1020-30), the cathedral at Vannes (c. 1030), St-Hilaire at
Poitiers (1049), and the abbey church at Cluny, as rebuilt in 1089. Shortly
before 1100 the church of St. Martin was once more rebuilt, on a scale of
greater splendour; and once more the new building became the model for
other churches, chief among which were those of St-Sernin at Toulouse
(1096), of Santiago at Compostela (c. 1105), and of the cathedral at
Chartres (1112).
The history of ecclesiastical architecture in Western Europe during the
relatively short period which alone deserves to be regarded as one of more
or less continuous and steady advance, and which extends, roughly
speaking, from 1000 to 1300, may be described as the history of successive
and progressive attempts to solve the problem, how best to cover with stone
vaulting a basilican or quasi-basilican church, that is to say, a building of
which the leading feature is a nave flanked with aisles and lighted with
clerestory windows (Dehio and v. Bezold, op. cit. I, 296; Bond, op. cit., 6).

It was the conditions of this problem, and the failure, more or less
complete, of all previous attempts to solve it satisfactorily, and by no means
a mere aesthetic striving after beauty of architectural form, which led step
by step to the development of the Gothic architecture of the thirteenth
century in its unsurpassed and unsurpassable perfection.
The advantages of a vaulted, as compared with a timber, roof are so
obvious that we are not surprised to find, dating from the tenth century or at
latest from the beginning of the eleventh, examples of basilican churches
with vaulted aisles. Indeed these first attempts at continuous vaulting would
probably have been made much earlier, but for the invasions of Saracens
and Northmen, which delayed till that period the first beginnings of a steady
development in ecclesiastical architecture, but which by their wholesale
destruction of pre-existing buildings may be said to have prepared the way
for that same development. The vaulting of the nave, however, in the case of
any church of considerable size, was a very different matter; and it was not
until the eleventh century was well advanced that the problem was seriously
faced. And when at last it was definitely taken in hand, this was done under
pressure of dire necessity. Everyone who is at all conversant with medieval
chronicles, or with the history of the cathedrals of Western Europe, must be
aware how extremely frequent were the disasters caused by conflagrations,
and it was natural enough that the church-builders of the later Middle Ages
should aim at making their buildings, at least relatively, fire-proof.
The simplest form which the vaulting of a rectangular chamber can take is,
of course, the cylindrical barrel-vault; and this is, in fact, the form which
was adopted in many of the earliest examples of vaulted roofs, especially in
the south of France; a form, too, which was extensively used in Italy during
the age of the Renaissance. But, though simplest alike in conception and in
construction, the cylindrical barrel-vault is in fact the least satisfactory that
could be devised for its purpose; and the objections which militate against
its employment are equally valid against that of the barrel-vault whose
cross section forms a pointed arch. Of these objections the chief is that the
horizontal thrust of a barrel-vault is evenly distributed throughout its entire
length. Theoretically, then, this thrust requires to be met, not by a series of
buttresses, but by a continuous wall of sufficient thickness to resist the
outward pressure at any and every point along the line. Moreover, the
higher the wall, the greater is the thickness needed, assuming of course that
the wall stands free, like the clerestory wall of an aisled church. Much, too,
will depend on the cohesiveness of the vaulting itself; and as the
Romanesque church-builders were either unacquainted with, or unable to
use, the methods by which the Romans and the Byzantines respectively
contrived to give an almost rigid solidity to their masonry, it is no matter for
surprise that in two large classes of instances they should have been content
to sacrifice either the clerestory or the aisles to the advantages of a vaulted
roof and to the exigencies of stability. Of aisleless churches indeed, we
must forbear here to speak. But of an important group of buildings which
German writers have designated Hallenkirchen (hall- churches) a word
must be said, as they unquestionably played a part in preparing the way for
the final solution of the problem of vaulting.
The most rudimentary form of hall-church is that in which the nave and
aisles are roofed with three parallel barrel-vaults, those of the aisles
springing from the same level as those of the nave. Examples are found at
Lyons (St-Martin d’Ainay), at Lesterps, at Civray, and Carcassonne (St-
Nazaire). An improvement on this design, in view of the illumination of the
nave, consists in giving to the vaulting of the aisles the form of a rampant
arch, as at Silvacanne, and from this it was but a step to the arrangement by
which the section took the form of a simple quadrant as at
Parthenay-le-Vieux, Preuilly, and Fontfroide. This method of quadrant
vaulting, as Viollet-le-Duc and others have observed, provides a kind of
continuous internal flying buttress, though it is by no means certain that the
idea of the flying buttress in the Gothic architecture of Northern France was
actually suggested by these Southern buildings. In point of stability. the
hall-churches of the eleventh century leave nothing to be desired. Their
great defect is want of light. And this defect almost equally affects a class
of buildings which may be described as two-storied hall-churches, and
which are found principally, if not exclusively, in Auvergne and its
neighbourhood. These are furnished, like a few of the Roman basilicas and
certain Byzantine churches, with a gallery, which is not a mere triforium
contrived in the thickness of the walls, but a chamber of equal dimension
with the aisle. This arrangement not only affords additional spaces but also,
by reason of the greater height of the edifice, might seem to facilitate the
provision of a more liberal supply of light, unimpeded by neighbouring
buildings. This last mentioned advantage is, however, almost entirely
negatived by the circumstance that, in this class of buildings, each bay of the
gallery is subdivided by means of coupled or grouped arches, so that the
additional obstruction offered to the passage of the light almost entirely
counterbalance the possible gain through additional fenestration. We say
the possible gain because, in fact, the galleries of these churches are but
sparingly provided with windows. In these churches (which to the English
reader should be of special interest by reason of their affinity in point of
construction to the Westminster cathedral) the aisle is usually cross-vaulted,
while the gallery has a quadrant vault abutting in the wall of the nave just
below the springing of the transverse arches. The most noteworthy
examples are found at Clermont-Ferrand (Notre Dame du Port), Issoire
(St-Paul), and Conques. To the same family belongs moreover, the great
church of St-Sernin at Toulouse already mentioned, which is distinguished
from those previously named by having a double aisle. At Nevers the
church of St-Etienne resembles those at Clermont, Issoire, and Conques,
except that it is provided with a range of upper windows which break
through the barrel-vaulting, somewhat after the fashion which afterwards
became so common in Italy in churches of the Renaissance period.
The inherent shortcomings of the barrel-vault, especially when used as a
roof for the nave of an aisled church, have been sufficiently illustrated.

These disadvantages, so far as structural stability and fenestration are
concerned, might indeed be overcome by adopting the system of a
succession of transverse barrel-vaults, such as are seen in the unique
instance of the church of St-Philibert at Tournus. Such a construction is,
however, ponderous and inelegant, and never came into general use
(Moore, Gothic Architecture, 42). The system of cross-vaulting, which has
now to be considered, may be regarded as a combination of longitudinal
with transverse barrel-vaulting, inasmuch as it may be described as
consisting of a central barrel which is penetrated or intersected by a series
of transverse vaults, corresponding of course to the successive bays or
compartments of the nave. The advantages of cross-vaulting are threefold.

In the first place the total amount of the outward lateral thrust is very greatly
diminished, since one half of it is now replaced by longitudinal thrusts,
which, being opposed in pairs, neutralize one another. Secondly, all that is
left of the lateral thrust, as well as the longitudinal thrusts, and the whole of
the vertical pressure instead of being distributed throughout the whole
length of the building, is now collected and delivered at definite points,
namely the summits of the columns or pillars. Thirdly and lastly, a perfectly
developed system of cross-vaulting makes it possible so to heighten the
clerestory windows that their archivolts shall reach the utmost interior
height of the building, and so to broaden them that their width between
reveals may approximate very closely to the interval between column and
column below. By these improvements (as ultimately realized in the
perfected Gothic of the thirteenth century) the somewhat rudimentary design
of the ancient Roman basilica may be said to have reached the highest
development of which it is capable. The gradual development of
cross-vaulting it is to be observed, did not take place in those districts of
Southern and Central France which had already become the home of the
barrel-vault and to a less degree of the cupola, but first in Lombardy then in
Germany, and finally in Northern France and in England. In these countries
the evolution of the Romanesque timber-roofed basilican church had — with
local variations of course — reached a far more advanced stage than was
ever attained in these regions in which the adoption of barrel-vaulting at a
relatively early date had in a manner put a check on architectural progress.

And it is noteworthy that in Lombardy and Germany, when cross-vaulting
was first adopted, its development was far less complete than in Northern
France, and that in like manner the advance towards perfection was both
less rapid and less complete in Normandy than in Picardy and the
Ile-de-France. These two districts were the last to adopt the system, but it
was here that it was within the brief space of less than fifty years
(1170-1220), brought to its final perfection. The reason may probably have
been, as Dehio and von Bezold suggest, that the architects of the Ile-
de-France, in the days of Philip Augustus and St. Louis, were less
trammelled than those of Normandy by the traditions of a school. The
comparative lack of important architectural monuments of an earlier date
left them, say these writers, a more open field for their inventive enterprise
(op. cit. I, 418).
The simplest form of cross-vaulting is of course that which is formed by the
intersection of two cylindrical barrel-vaults of equal span. And this,
without the use of ribbed groining, was the method mostly adopted by the
Roman builders in their civic edifices. In the case of a pillared or columned
church, however, this method had its disadvantages. In particular, having
regard to the dimensions of the aisle and its vaulting, the builders of
Northern Europe had all but universally adopted the plan of so spacing the
columns and pillars which flank the nave that the intervals between them
should be one-half the width of the church. Now the only means by which an
equal height could be given to vaults of unequal span was the use of the
pointed arch; and so it came about that the pointed arch was adopted, not
primarily for aesthetic reasons, but rather for constructive purposes. And
the same is to be said of the use of ribbed groining. The medieval builders,
who, as has been said above, possessed neither a tenacious mortar nor the
command of an abundant supply of rough labour, and who therefore could
not — even had they wished it — have adopted the massive concrete
masonry of the Romans, were driven by the very necessities of the case to
aim at the same time to depend for stability not on the cohesion of the
materials, but on the reduction of thrusts to a minimum, and on their skilful
transmission to points where they could be effectively resisted. It was, then,
plainly desirable to substitute for a vaulting of uniform thickness a
framework of ribs on which a comparatively thin layer of stones (cut to the
requisite curvature) could be laid, and as far as possible to lighten the
whole construction by moulding the ribs and likewise the columns which
supported the vaulting. The same principle of aiming at lightness of
construction led to the elimination, as far as possible, of arches of the nave.

This was done by the enlargement of the windows and the development of
the triforium, till the entire building, with the exception of the buttresses,
and of the spandrels below the triforium, became a graceful framework of
grouped shafts and interlacing ribs (Moore, op. cit., 17). The final stage in
the evolution of architecture of the pointed arch was not, however, reached,
until, for the solid Romanesque buttresses, which rested on the vaulting of
the aisles, and which were not only clumsy but often proved inadequate for
their purpose, the genius of the Gothic builders hit upon the epoch-making
device of the flying buttress. By means of this device the thrust of the main
vaulting was not, indeed, as has been too often said, met by a
counter-thrust, but was transmitted to the solid buttresses, mostly weighted
with pinnacles, which were now built outwards to a great distance from the
aisles, and the spaces between which were sometimes utilized, and might
with advantage have been more often utilized, for a range of lateral chapels.

The subject of Gothic architecture in its details is, however, one that needs
separate treatment, and for present purposes this very inadequate indication
of some of the general principles involved in its development must suffice.
It was stated at the outset of the article that all ecclesiastical architecture
may be said to have been devel- oped from two primitive germs, the oblong
and the circular chamber. Of those very numerous churches, principally, but
by no means exclusively, Eastern or Italian, which may be regarded as the
products of the second line of development, we shall speak very briefly.

That a circular chamber without any kind of annex was unsuitable for the
ordinary purposes of public worship is plain enough. And the most obvious
modification of this rudimentary form was to throw out a projecting
sanctuary on one side of the building, as in St. George’s, Thessalonica, or in
the little church of S. Tommaso in Limine, near Bergamo. It was hardly less
obviously convenient to build a projecting porch or narthex on the opposite
side, as in St. Elias’s, also at Thessalonica, and to complete the cross by
means of lateral projection, as in the sepulchral chapel of Galla Placidia at
Ravenna. Thus it was that churches having the form of a Greek cross, as
well as other varieties of what German authors call the Centralbau, may be
said to owe their origin to a very simple process of evolution from the
circular domed building. Among the almost endless varieties on the main
theme may be here enumerated:
buildings in which a circular, or polygonal, or quadrilateral aisle,
whether in one or more stories, surrounds the central space,
buildings in which, though the principal open space is cruciform, and
the whole is dominated by a central cupola, the ground- plan shows a
rectangular outline, the cross being, as it were, boxed within a square;
buildings in which one of the arms of the cross is considerably
elongated, as in the Duomo at Florence, St. Peter’s in Rome, and St.

Paul’s in London.

The last-named modification, it is to be observed, has the effect of
assimilating the ground-plan of those great churches, and of many lesser
examples of the same character, to that of the Romanesque and Gothic
cruciform buildings whose genealogical descent from the columned
rectangular basilica is contestable. Among ecclesiastical edifices of
historical importance or interest which are either circular or polygonal, or
in which the circular or polygonal centre predominates over subsidiary
parts of the structure, may be mentioned the Pantheon in Rome, St. Sergius
at Constantinople, S. Vitale at Ravenna, S. Lorenzo at Milan, the great
baptisteries of Florence, Siena, and Pisa, and the churches of the Knights
Templars in various parts of Europe. St. Luke at Stiris in Phocis, besides
being an excellent typical instance of true Byzantine architecture, affords a
good example of the boxing of a cruciform building of the Greek type, by
enclosing within the walls the square space between the adjacent limbs of
the cross.
Practically, however, the full development of cruciform from circular
buildings became possible only when the problem had been solved of
roofing a square chamber with a circular dome. This has in some cases
been done by first reducing the square to an octagon, by means of
squinches or trompettes, and then raising the dome on the octagon, by
filling in the obtuse angles of the figure with rudimentary pendentives or
faced corbelling. But already in the sixth century the architect and builder of
Santa Sophia had showed for all time that it was possible by means of
true pendentives, to support a dome, even of immense size, on four arches
(with their piers) forming a square. The use of pendentives being once
understood, it became possible, not only to combine the advantages of a
great central dome with those of a cruciform church, but also to substitute
domical for barrel- vaulting over the limbs of the cross, as at S. Marco,
Venice, St-Front, P?rigueux, and S. Antonio, Padua, or even to employ
domical vaulting for a nave divided into square bays, as in the cathedral at
Angouleme and other eleventh century churches in Perigord, in S. Salvatore
at Venice, in the London Oratory, and (with the difference that saucer domes
are here employed) in the Westminster Cathedral. Nor should it be forgotten
that in the nave of St. Paul’s, London, the architect had shown that domical
vaulting is possible even when the bays of nave or aisles are not square, but
pronouncedly oblong. Indeed, if account be taken of the manifold
disadvantages of barrel-vaulting as a means of roofing the nave of a large
church, it may safely be said that the employment of some form of the dome
or cupola is as necessary to the logical and structural perfection of the
architecture of the round arch as ribbed groining and the use of flying
buttresses are necessary to the logical and structural perfection of the
architecture of the pointed arch.
A word must now be said, in conclusion, as to the merits of the several
systems and styles of architecture, more especially in relation to the needs
of our own day. Of systems, indeed, there are in truth only three, the
trabeate or that of which the horizontal lintel may be regarded as the
generating element, and which of necessity postulates a timber roof; that of
the round arch, which by virtue of the law of economy postulates, as has
been said, the use of domical rather than barrel-vaulting and that of the
pointed arch, which, if carried to perfection postulates ribbed groining and
the use of the flying buttress. The second system, however, admits of two
methods of treatment which are sufficiently distinctive to be classed as two
styles, viz. the neoclassical, or Renaissance, and the Byzantine, and which
shall be particularized presently.
Now the trabeate system, or that of the timber roof, may be very briefly
dismissed. In the great majority of cases we must, indeed, of necessity be
content with such a covering, for our churches; but no one would choose a
wooden roof who could afford a vaulted building. Again, the various types
of Romanesque architecture, with their imperfect and tentative methods of
vaulting, though historically of great interest, should be regarded as finally
out of court. On the other hands of the Gothic architecture of the thirteenth
century as exemplified in the great cathedrals of Northern France and of
Cologne, it mas be quite fearlessly asserted:
that every single principle of construction employed therein was the
outcome of centuries of practical experience, in the form of successive
and progressive attempts to solve the problems of church vaulting;
that the great loftiness of these buildings was not primarily due (as has
been sometimes suggested) to any mere Emporstreben, or
upward-soaring propensity, but was simply the aggregate result of
giving to the windows of the aisles and of the clerestory a height in
suitable proportion to their width, and to the triforium a height
sufficient to allow of the abutment of the aisle roof; and
that every subsequent attempt to modify in any substantial particular,
this perfected Gothic style, was of its nature retrogressive and
decadent, as may be illustrated from the English perpendicular and the
Italian and Spanish varieties of Gothic architecture.
Nevertheless it must be admitted that thirteenth-century Gothic, though
perfect of its kind, has its limitations, the most serious of which — in
relation to modern needs — is the necessarily restricted width of the nave.

When the architect of the Milan cathedral attempted to improve on his
French predecessors by exceeding their maximum width of fifty feet, and to
construct a Gothic building with a nave measuring sixty feet across it was
found impossible, as the building proceeded, to carry out the original design
without incurring the almost certain risk of a collapse, and hence it was
necessary to depress the clerestory to its present stunted proportions. Now
under modern conditions of life, especially in the case of a cathedral of
first-class importance, a nave of far greater width is by all means desirable;
and in order to secure this greater width it is necessary either to fall back on
the unsatisfactory compromise of Italian or Spanish Gothic, as illustrated in
the cathedrals of Milan, Florence, or Gerona, or else to adopt the principle
of the round arch, combined, by preference, with domical vaulting. This, as
everyone knows, is what Mr. Bentley has done, with altogether conspicuous
success, in the case of the Westminster Cathedral. Of the design of this
noble edifice it is impossible to speak here. But it may be worth while to
indicate one main reason for the choice of the Byzantine rather than the
neoclassic or Renaissance treatment of the round-arch system. The principal
difference between the two is this: that, whereas the neoclassical style, by
its use of pilasters, treats every pier as though it were a cluster of huge,
flat-faced columns; the Byzantine boldly distinguishes between piers and
columns, and employs the latter exclusively for the purposes which
monolithic shafts are suited to fulfil, for instance the support of a gallery
while the piers in a Byzantine building make no pretence of being other than
what they are, viz., the main supports of the vaulting. The Byzantine method
of construction was employed at Westminster has the further advantage that
it brings within the building the whole of the spaces between the buttresses
thereby at the same time increasing the interior dimensions and avoiding the
awkward appearance of ponderous external supports. Nor is the Byzantine
style of architecture suitable for a great cathedral alone; and one may
venture to hope that the great experiment which has been tried at
Westminster will be fruitful of results in the future development of
ecclesiastical architecture.


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