Roman (5688 words) Essay

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 Thessalonica; 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. 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.

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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. ROMANESQUE TYPES 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-Forêt
(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 Charité,
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-Benoît-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 Orléans
(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).

ROMANESQUE VAULTING 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. THE
CIRCULAR CHURCH AND ITS DERIVATIVES 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; and 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, Périgueux,
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. SYSTEMS AND STYLES OF ARCHITECTURE IN RELIGION
TO MODERN NEEDS 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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