Articulation in the upper nave walls

Articulation in the upper nave walls

Bernay (Eure), former monastery church of Notre-Dame. Around 1051 and following years.

Articulation in the upper nave walls

An alternative style of wall articulation under flat ceilings has survived at Notre-Dame in Bernay. It is the oldest of a whole group of Norman churches with the same concept of interior design. To the vaulted east parts were added wide, unvaulted naves and aisles with three-storey elevations and flat ceilings. It is as if the flat ceilings were taken into account, not only because of the light from the clerestory, but also because the possibilites of developing the upper walls of the nave had been recognized. Furthermore with the opening up and increased articulation of these areas of wall, it was not only the light and shadow effects that could be exploited, but useful spaces could be created in the upper storey, which could be reached by the increasingly popular west towers. As in Cluny, this development would certainly have had liturgical justification, as it was almost always the projected use of a space or object which determined its shape and form.

Jumieges (Seine-Maritime), former abbey church of Notre-Dame. 1040.

Jumieges (Seine-Maritime), former abbey church of Notre-Dame. 1040.

In Bernay there are only small openings in the dark roof structure complementing the piers and arches below. Next to each window is a blind recess. Above this is the clerestory and a flat ceiling, which was soon replaced by a wooden barrel vault. The barrel vault was certainly regarded as the finest type of ceiling. At Bernay it was chosen for the projecting transept and for the almost exact copy of Cluny’s chevet with five radiating chapels. The small galleries in the transept walls and the choir were used, but the windows were dispensed with for the time being. A tower crowned the crossing, but its collapse between 1080 and 1090 also resulted in the renewal of the choir and transept. In the choir the barrel vaulting was abandoned in favor of a clerestory. The transept was also given windows and the barrel vaulting of the ceiling renewed.
It was here that a particular scheme of proportioning was used for the first time, in which one square nave bay was equivalent to two aisle bays, and in which the aisles were half the width of the nave. This scheme had been already used at Saint-Remi in Rheims, but in that church there were originally no responds which would have grouped pairs of arches together to form a square. In Jumieges these responds were present, reaching from floor level virtually up to the window sills of the clerestory, and at one time supporting the strainer arches. Also for the first time we find an alternation of supports. The “strong” piers are square with four engaged columns, whilst the “weak” supports are simple columns. Each arcade corresponds to a set of three arches, grouped together in an arch-shaped recess in the second storey and a single window in the clerestory. Above this was the flat ceiling.

Jumieges (Seine-Maritime), former abbey church of Notre-Dame. 1040, nave interior

Jumieges (Seine-Maritime), former abbey church of Notre-Dame. 1040, nave interior

The whole appearance of the interior space changed with the introduction of responds. The nave no longer appeared so box-like and the openings were “anchored” more securely. The responds furthermore created a vertical counterweight to what had previously always been a very horizontal articulation. They brought the space together and divided it into sections, each resembling the next, and reproducible in any number. They also emphasized the vertical, a deliberate effect at Jumieges, for the nave was increased to an unprecedented height of 78 feet (Cluny III was only 18 feet higher).
This building also had a projecting transept and an ambulatory with radiating chapels. In the fourteenth century the latter unfortunately had to make way for a new building which was attached directly to the west walls of the transept. The ground plan of the first choir was excavated and ‘hown to have two forebays with capitals, an ambulatory and three – idiating chapels. By all appearances, the elevation of the nave was .ontinued in the choir, albeit with a reduced height, and its nave and z.illeries had barrel vaulting. In the transept a sort of bridge over two irches linked the galleries of the nave with those of the choir. This is a clear ldication that these areas were used.

Jumieges (Seine-Maritime), former abbey church of Notre-Dame. 1040, west front

Jumieges (Seine-Maritime), former abbey church of Notre-Dame. 1040, west front

On the west walls of the transepts there is an interesting feature. A thick wall has subsequently been built in front of the inner wall, suggesting that vaulting had been planned. It is possible that this was an attempt to reduce the width which the vault would have to span. Of greater significance, however, for the development of Norman design is the passageway at the level of the windows, which was made possible with the building of the second wall. In this way the concept of the window passageway was born. It led not only to the abandonment of choir vaulting, but also to the breaking down of the continuity of the wall around the high windows.
The eastern parts of Jumieges were built only slightly later than the chancel and transept of Mont-Saint-Michel. The construction of the nave of Jumieges, on the other hand, just preceded the nave at Mont-Saint- Michel.
The builders of each church were fully aware of what was happening at the other. Mont-Saint-Michel had a polygonal ambulatory built over a gigantic substructure crypt, but, because of the sloping terrain, the ambulatory had no chapels. There was also a transept, which, together with the ambulatory, had the same elevation as Jumieges. The eastern parts were moreover modified in the late Gothic style. The nave is more richly decorated and is not proportioned in the same way as Jumieges. All the piers are identical and the bays are oblong. One arch in the arcades corresponds to two gallery arches, each of which has double openings and one slender clerestory window above. The strongly projecting responds do not support strainer arches and extend to the edge of the wooden barrel vault. It may be that strainer arches were rejected because they would have reduced the light from the clerestory windows. Moreover, the vertical articulation afforded by the responds was now perhaps considered indispensable. Nevertheless, this makes the wooden barrel vault at Mont- Saint-Michel look out of place above the nave. The supporting arches, supported by the responds, are absent here. Two different concepts of the interior space meet here unintentionally: the older concept found in Nivelles and Rheims, and the newer one whose impact rests on powerful vertical divisions.