Northern France the absence of vaulting

Northern France the absence of vaulting

Rheims (Marne), Saint-Remi. 1005 to mid-eleventh century. Nave wall

Northern France the absence of vaulting

In northern France a whole range of buildings have survived from the first half of the eleventh century. All of them have flat ceilings. Until the end of the century barrel vaulting set clear limitations to the width of a nave. The builders chose wide and high naves with large clerestory windows and thus dispensed with vaulting. The church of Montier-en-der, which was already complete by the year 1000, is the earliest surviving example.

The year 1000 also saw the building of a new church at Nivelles to replace the old complex structure which had been destroyed by fire (figure, right). The eastern area has four bays of the nave, a wide projecting transept and a choir with a flat termination with subsidiary rooms and chapels above an extended crypt. Like its predecessor this eastern area is dedicated to St. Peter, whilst the western end of the nave, with its much narrower and shorter transept, is dedicated to St. Gertrude. Extensive rebuilding in the twelfth century has made the west choir into a complex structure with many storeys and an imperial chamber on the upper floor.
As with the two-storey colonnaded nave with its flat ceiling, the western transept is also virtually without ornamentation. However, in the choir and the eastern transept there is a large range of blind arcades and recesses typical of the period.

Rheims (Marne), Saint-Remi. 1005 to mid-eleventh century, ground plan

Rheims (Marne), Saint-Remi. 1005 to mid-eleventh century, ground plan

The same structure and spaciousness as at Nivelles are also to be found at Saint-Remi in Reims, although the ground plan and elevation are much more elaborate (photos, p. 137). The first church on this site, consecrated in 852, had been built by Archbishop Hincmar to the honor of St. Remigius. A new building was begun by Abbot Airard after 1005, and was completed according to a slightly simplified plan by Abbot Thierry some time after 1034. Modifications in the Gothic style were made in the twelfth century, namely the responds in the nave, the pointed blind arches above the galleries, the rib vaulting and the ambulatory. Subsequent additions are probably also the tympana on the slim colonnades which are placed in the gallery openings.
There was clearly a very devoted following to St. Remigius, and Abbot Airard acknowledged this in his new building to the saint. The significance of St. Remigius predated the feverish popularity of the pilgrimage to St. James which spread throughout Europe and established Santiago as the most important goal for pilgrims. The interior must once have been very impressive: clusters of slender columns supported the arches of the thirteen nave arcades, above which were the galleries whose openings were almost as large as the arcade openings themselves. High up above a wide empty area of wall were the windows of the clerestory. Above this was the flat ceiling which must have been as colorful as all the walls; one has only to think of Reichenau Oberzell or the minster at Constance from the same period. Bright light from the windows of the clerestory, galleries and aisles must have flooded into the nave, whose heavy walls were lightened by the large gallery openings.

Views of cloisters

Views of cloisters

The eastern parts are a real revelation. The aisles with their galleries continue along the west side, and previously also along the front of the very slim projecting transepts. On the eastern side there are five interconnecting chapels, four of which have semi-circular terminations. This must be an adaptation of the Cluniac choir with radiating chapels, which evidently must have been necessary as the galleries continued over these chapels. In this way an interior was created which was clear and yet subtle in its impact. The end of the chancel formed a large semi-circular apse with a forebay. A similar ground plan, although with a nave and four aisles, was to be found at Orleans cathedral, the forerunner of this building and also dating from around 1000.
The church at Vignory, too, belonged to this category. In the deed of gift of 1050 it is described as having just been completed, but this must only refer to a repair or a partial rebuilding, as nearly all the parts of the unvaulted church would already have been finished in the first quarter of the eleventh century.

Nivelles (Belgium), Sainte-Gertrude- Saint-Pierre. Around 1000-1046. Nave wall

Nivelles (Belgium), Sainte-Gertrude- Saint-Pierre. Around 1000-1046. Nave wall

The nave leads directly into the choir, only a strainer arch marking the boundary between the two. The windows arranged in two zones in the gable over the strainer arch are an unusual feature.
The church consists of a nave and two aisles, extending over nine bays. Arcades of differing heights, and without the under arches, rest on unornamented square piers. Above each of these is a parallel opening with a strong column in the middle and square piers on the sides. The arches are not grouped, resulting in a continuous row of arches with alternating supports. The clerestory consists of a large simple window in each bay beneath an open roof framework. The architecture is all reduced to the tension between the wall and opening. The almost complete absence of sculptured ornament and articulation causes the nave to appear archaic and austere. At the same time, however, the interior is surprisingly well illuminated.
The choir consists of two forebays without galleries or windows, a semi-circular column capital and a vaulted ambulatory with three radiating chapels.