From the end of the sixth century to the end of the twelfth
century the basilican plan continued to evolve. During this
period when the lioman Empire was disintegrating, Christianity,
Roman tradition, and the new energetic spirit of the
Celtic-Germanic peoples merged. Gradually the church
became the central authority both politically and spiritually,
and the popes, in effect, succeeded the Roman emperors (9).
Once firmly established, Christianity provided the unifying
force in the midst of anarchy. Many of the principal northern
rulers made pilgrimages to Rome, where they visited
the earlier Roman Christian churches. Eager to reestablish
the imperial past upon returning home, they reinterpreted
these churches and other structures in the north. Important
architectural innovations of this era included the development
of new vaulting with ribs as the principal structural
element; the refinement of pier form, in which several
structural members were grouped together in compound
designs; and the introduction of the tribune gallery in the
space between the vaulting and the roof of the side aisle.
The regular crossing and the use of passageways around
the choir, which had radiating chapels connected by a circular
walkway forming a chevet, became more common (10) (see
Fig. 3). These features are typically associated with the
Romanesque, a nineteenth-century term used to describe
the general style developed between the Roman and the
Gothic periods. The round arches and heavy walls of this
period clearly suggest ancient Roman architecture.
Because the folk heroes of these northern tribes struggled against a pagan world of fantastic creatures of the deep, dark forests, their churches often reflected this heritage. For example, the north side of the church came to represent darkness and cold and was associated with the Old Testament, while the south side, with its relatively greater warmth and light, represented the New Testament (11). The long axis was traditionally placed in an east-west direction so the apse of the church faced the rising sun. At the same time, the west end became the important ceremonial entry.
Vaulting with ribs
Pier in Compound design
Chevet radiating chamber
Figure 3: Innovations of the medieval period (Romanesque).
The Vikings who settled in northwest France after their conversion to Christianity became skilled administrators and builders. They developed the most progressive of the many Romanesque styles. Abbaye-aux-Hommes, in Caen, France (1060-1081), is considered their master model (see Fig. 4). Also known as St. Etienne and begun by William the Conqueror, the west facade has two towers. This type of composition became typical in later Gothic churches. Divided into three parts above the buttresses, the towers' structural purpose was to contain the outward thrust of the high side and end walls. These towers also had symbolic meanings. While they did not attempt to reach heaven, they did point toward it. They also marked the importance of the west end as a ceremonial entrance. In German cathedrals the western towers were a traditional symbol of secular power, balancing the concentration of ecclesiastical power at the eastern end (12).
The church in Caen also contains a raised lantern above the crossing of the nave and transept. This became a typical feature in other churches and was used to provide additional illumination to this otherwise dark but important intersection above the high altar. The complexity of the piers and the reduction of wall surface resulting from larger openings also anticipated the brighter walls of later Gothic architecture.
Figure 4: Abbaye-aux-Hommes, Caen, France.
The Romanesque style blossomed in the United States beginning in the 1830s. American interest in the Romanesque was an outgrowth of the earlier revival of this style by the Germans a decade earlier. (Many considered Germany to be the cultural leader of Europe in the first half of the nineteenth century.) The first new American Romanesque Revival church was the Church of the Pilgrims in Brooklyn, New York. Designed by Richard Upjohn in 1844 in the manner of a typical German abbey, Pilgrim Church served as a model for hundreds of other churches across the country. The style became popular, in part, because it was relatively easy and economical to build, and various published plans for churches suggest that it was preferred for its simplicity.
The earliest and most visible Romanesque processional church in Cleveland is the Old Stone Church (First Presbyterian), located on the northwest corner of Public Square. Designed by the firm of Heard and Porter and built between 1853 and 1855, it exemplifies the early Romanesque Revival style in America (see Fig. 5).
Figure 5: Old Stone Church (First Presbyterian), Cleveland, Ohio.