The Original Romanesque and Gothic

Well, after a 24-hour day of flying, including five airports, four hours standing in six lines at Charles de Gaulle, a lovely dinner of lamb and couscous on the Air France flight on which I finally got placed, two hours of a baby screeching two rows behind me, and my first experience in a double-decker airplane (I was on the upper deck!), I’m back in Mississippi, just in time to catch my azaleas in full bloom and my bearded irises popping out.

But I’ll be thinking about my trip to France for a long time–I saw so much, so many places and buildings I never expected or hoped to see, it will take me a while to process it all.

Once again, I remembered why I believe in the preservation of our historic places. I’ve heard people, some even in positions of authority in historic preservation, say that maybe the best way to “preserve” history is to post pictures and drawings online because it’s just too hard to preserve the actual buildings. While I love our HABS resources online, I strongly disagree with the philosophy that “virtual” is just as good as “physical.” I have seen pictures of Roman structures; I have seen pictures of Romanesque and Gothic churches, medieval chateaus, and walled cities. None of that came close to actually walking into a Roman arena, seeing how it related to the city around it, experiencing the difference spacial feel of a Romanesque and a Gothic church, and seeing a fortified chateau up on a hill commanding the valley below it. History came alive from the physical remnants I experienced, in a way that it didn’t from the pictures online or in books.

Of course, Mississippi’s history is not the same as France’s. So what? It’s still our history, an important history, and it’s worth preserving for future generations, so that they can say, “Wow, I’ve seen pictures of Greek Revival churches (or cotton gins, or a twentieth century school, courthouse, etc.), but nothing compares to standing inside one.”

Well, just to give you a few more pictures of France before we get back to our normal schedule next week, I thought I’d show you a few of my favorite religious buildings from the trip–I saw so many it’s hard to choose, but here’s my attempt. I had always been told that Romanesque meant barrel vaults (like the Romans), while Gothic meant pointed arches, but this visit blew that out of the water, as I learned that many Romanesque churches have “broken barrel vaults” that look alot like the pointed arches of Gothic. Who knew?

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Categories: Churches, Cool Old Places, Historic Preservation

5 replies

  1. What a great way to “reuse” a convent – turn it into an art museum. I love it!


    • Yes, it is a great space, but I only just realized when I was posting these pictures that in fact the “reuse” results from the convent being taken by force from the Augustinians in 1793, during the French Revolution. Oh well.


  2. Great pictures again E.L.! Pictures will never equal bricks and mortar, but they are a valuable tool. Sounds like you were on the new A380! That must have been quite an experience- glad you made it back safely!


  3. Having worked and lived in France I recognized and loved your photos (but where is the food pics?)
    ,notice how clean some of the 12 th cent buildings were ; they were cleaned using a low psi aluminum silicate called gummage or” erasure ” that impacts on the dirt and lets it fall away without any suface loss ; 20 years ago these surfaces were all black
    The groin vaults were spectacular six -parte and quad -parte and they spread the load above
    In Romanesque and gothic My rule of thumb is always the collmns
    low or low and squat for Ronanesque tall and thin for Gothic ;and no flyng buttress for Romanesque and no roman (hense romanesqe ) arches for gothic
    .Perhaps your barrel vault identification is confused with the differece between a basilica and a Cathedral
    Basilica has barrel vault ,Cathedral has transepts;although there are Basillicas that became Cathedrals (because thats where the bishop sits )
    If you can’t afford to go to France to see gothic and Romanesque may I suggest the Cathedral St John the Dive in NYC where i once worked building the bell tower then lauched a training program where we restored churches
    (22 of them) ;but watch out those Episcopalins will get you
    Here the entrace facade is romanesque while the inside has Crambs Great gothic nave (56 ft high ) What happened is that they changed architects ;and romanesque went out of style (too dark too low inside )
    Ive been inside this Cathedral (world peace day ) when there was a record 8-9ooo people in there .
    The Pizza across the street isn’t bad either / Michael


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