Cleansing Fire

Defending Truth and Tradition in the Roman Catholic Church

Posts Tagged ‘Liturgical art’

Baroque Lenten Station Church

March 16th, 2015, Promulgated by Bernie

Here is one of the Seven Station Churches of Rome, “Holy Cross in Jerusalem” (Santa Croce in Gerusalemme), originated in 320. (More info here)

Rome was the center of the Baroque style of church architecture and this is a good example. “Holy Cross”  assumed its current Baroque appearance under Benedict XIV (1740-1758)

This church was recently featured on the New Liturgical Movement website. (Here)

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The facades of Baroque churches are treated like sculpture and appear more three-dimensional than the flatter previous Renaissance style. Contrasting curved lines and forms often animate a facade creating an undulating surface. Sculptures are common and cornices can be large, casting a dark shadow underneath. The curves and dark recesses create drama. Pediments are often broken by advancing and receding sections. Sometimes the center of a pediment is missing as is the one over the doorway, above. Columns or, in this case, pilasters rise to the height of two stories. The intention is drama and excitement. Most of all it is meant to communicate an impression of power and authority.

The Baroque Style was described as part of the Church Architecture Style series. (Here)

The Stations of the Cross

March 7th, 2015, Promulgated by Bernie

Details from some of the Stations of the Cross at Our Lady of Victory/Saint Joseph Church, Rochester, New York. (Sorry, but I do not know the name of the painter.)

When we walk without the Cross, when we build without the Cross, and when we profess Christ without the Cross, we are not disciples of the Lord. We are worldly, we are bishops, priests, cardinals, Popes, but not disciples of the Lord.” – Pope Francis

(Click on pictures for sharper images)







An Icon of the Coptic New Martyrs of Libya

February 28th, 2015, Promulgated by Bernie

From the New Liturgical Movement website


Coptic Martyrs“I am sure that all of our readers are aware of the recent massacre in Libya of a group of Egyptian Copts, who were killed for their faith by Islamic terrorists. The Patriarch of Alexandria, His Holiness Pope Tawadros II, has officially recognized them as martyrs, and ordered that their commemoration be inserted into the Synaxarium; their feast will be… ”   (Read More Here)

Click on the image to see the entire icon. The writer of the icon is Tony Rezk.

Churches That Look Like Churches

February 18th, 2015, Promulgated by Bernie

Link to Duncan G. Stroik Gallery of Church Architecture Projects

15869201408_d79e97218c_oClick on the above link to view the several church projects designed by architect Duncan G. Stroik. He is, in my humble opinion, one of the very best architects of Catholic churches today. If you have been following my series on “Church Architecture Styles” you will have no trouble identifying Stroik’s interest in certain styles from our Catholic tradition.

Duncan Stroik is also the author of  –again, in my humble opinion– the excellent  “The Church Building as a Sacred Place – Beauty, Transcendence, and the Eternal”

71S00sMbJDL“This retrospective and forward-looking collection of 23 essays by Duncan Stroik shows the development and consistency of his architectural vision over the last eighteen years. The essays cover church modernism and modernity, renaissance and renewal, principles of church design, and a critique of modern iconoclasm. The appendices feature: a list of canonical documents pertaining to church architecture, a useful chart showing the comparative size of well known churches and comparative sizes of baldacchinos in Rome. Packed with informative essays and over 170 photographs, this collection will help priests, bishops, liturgical consultants, lay commissions and parishioners understand the Church s architectural tradition. Duncan Stroik’s architectural practice and career have helped lead the evolution of the international classical movement, and over the past decade his work has been instrumental in the new renaissance of sacred architecture. He is an internationally noted classical designer and heavily involved in promoting the new renaissance in Catholic architecture. He combines a passion for an architecture of durability, beauty, and function, with an intimate knowledge of Catholic liturgy.” –From the book jacket.


A Fundamental Misunderstanding of the Nature of Catholic Liturgy

February 2nd, 2015, Promulgated by Bernie


From the New Liturgical Movement

“Catholics today might sometimes be struck by the passionate conviction of the younger generation of Catholics who are fighting for the cause of the Sacred Liturgy. It is as if we are fighting for dear life, in a struggle to the bitter end, against our mortal enemies. The reason is simple: we are doing exactly that. It is no exaggeration to say that there is a fundamentally false view out there, very popular nowadays, as captured in this paragraph from Whispers from the Loggia of November 24:

‘The office’s [i.e., Congregation for Divine Worship’s] new mission is likely to hew closer to Francis’ own… ‘ ” READ MORE

Read the interesting follow-up post Is the Liturgy an End or a Means? Further Considerations

Church Architecture Styles: Baroque

January 28th, 2015, Promulgated by Bernie

Previously in this series:

1. “House” Churches  2. Early Christian  3. Byzantine

4. Romanesque  5. “Pilgrimage Churches”  6. Gothic

7.  Italian Renaissance

(Click on pictures to enlarge.)

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Fig. 1 Architecture, painting, sculpture, and decoration all work together in the Baroque style to create a unified emotional expression meant to impress.

Two events stimulated the rise of the Baroque style of church architecture, the Protestant Reformation (1517-1648) and the Catholic Council of Trent (1545-1563). There were other influences as well but we will limit our discussion to these two in this post. 1

The Protestant Reformation (1517-1648) involved an attack on the pope and the papacy that threatened the people’s faith in the authority of the Church. It began, more or less in earnest, when Martin Luther protested the sale of indulgences. The money collected from the sale was helping to fund, in part, the building of the new Saint Peter’s Basilica, in Rome. The issue of indulgences grew into a much wider conflict over several doctrines including a debate over the legitimacy of the papacy, itself.

Other Protestant reformers generally supported Luther’s ideas but some staked out theological positions more radical than Luther’s. Many of the outward signs of the Catholic Church (liturgical art and rituals) were rejected by several Protestant sects. Catholic liturgical traditions were jettisoned not only for theological reasons but also in reaction to the morally questionable and lavish lifestyle of the Catholic hierarchy. Art, imagery, and rich decoration were, in varying degrees, rejected by Protestants as looking “too Catholic”.

A minimalist attitude toward worship was adopted by some Protestants, centering church services almost entirely on preaching. Some mostly Protestant regions saw outbreaks of destructive iconoclasm: Catholic images defaced, pulled down or otherwise destroyed. Even Martin Luther was appalled and expressed strong disapproval.

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Fig. 2 (L) Many Protestants built churches which emphasized the pulpit and played down traditional Catholic imagery and decoration. This is a Protestant Calvinist “Temple” in Lyon, France called the “Paradise”. Fig. 3 (R) Protestant iconoclasts destroying Catholic imagery.

The response of the Catholic Church to the Protestant Reformation came through the Council of Trent. Its strategy is known as the Catholic Counter Reformation. Two aspects of the strategy concern us here: (1) enlisting art to bolster the authoritative image of the Catholic Church and, (2) deploying the Jesuits to reaffirm the traditional teachings of the Church. Both were highly successful.


Fig. 4 Often the Baroque church building seems open to the heavens.

In the Counter Reformation popes commissioned splendid churches meant to wow the faithful and communicate a sense of legitimacy, power and authority. Stunning architectural and decorative affects presented the doctrines and teachings of the Catholic Church in emotionally engaging ways which aroused a positive internal response in the faithful, much like a dramatic play does.

Baroque churches, then, represent the “architecture of rhetorical expression and persuasion.” Rhetorical devices such as “emotionalism, provocation, and alienation were designed to provide the viewer with a sense of immediate experience.”3  Rhetorical rules or principles were followed in Baroque art “to delight and move” people as much as in a sermon.

In the case of the art of the new Baroque churches it was/is hard to tell where earth leaves off and heaven begins. Architects, sculptors, stucco artists, and painters join heaven to earth in amazing feats of visual illusion. The interiors of the Baroque churches often seem to be open to the heavens. Saints, angels and clouds swirl ever upward escaping painting frames and crossing over the building’s architectural divisions. There seems to be no ceiling in many Baroque churches; no division, no gulf exists between earth and heaven. In terms of design, swirling curved lines and forms predominate creating a sense of dramatic movement.

Everything the Church had always held theologically got a restatement in the emotionally persuasive Baroque style.

Along with the emotional strategy of the Counter Reformation was an intellectual one. The Jesuits –the popes’ highly intelligent and trained corps of preachers—were sent out to teach, attacking Protestant theological positions and advancing Catholic ones. Church architecture adapted to the needs of the preachers. The typical basilica church ground plan of a nave with two side aisles gave way to a plan more like a hall or theater that enhanced the ability of the preacher to be seen and heard. Often, elliptical plans were used in the construction of new churches perhaps influenced by the 17th century discovery of an apparent divine ordering in the elliptical orbiting of planets.

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Fig. 5 (L) Churches often had elliptical or rounded plans more like halls or theaters, to better facilitate preaching. Fig. 6 (R) Choir areas between the altar and congregation were eliminated in new plans with only a communion rail separating the congregation from the chancel.

In addition, liturgical reforms, in response to Protestant criticism, addressed the need for an increased participation of the faithful in the Mass. Choir screens that obstructed the congregation’s view of the altar were ordered removed. The choirs themselves in new churches were removed to the rear of the church and situated in a balcony so that the altar could be adjacent to the nave without any separation other than a communion rail. 5

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All aspects of a Baroque style church work together to create a  unified expression of grandeur. Fig. 7 (L) Churches in Germany and Bavaria often have a more frilly, fanciful look. Fig 8 (R) Classical orders often play a more obvious role in Italian and French Baroque.

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The facades of Baroque churches are treated like sculpture and appear more three dimensional than the flatter Renaissance style. Fig. 9 (L) Contrasting curved lines and forms often animate a facade. Niches with sculptures are common and cornices can be large, casting a dark shadow underneath. The curves and shadows create drama. Fig. 10 (R) Pediments are often broken by advancing and receding sections. Sometimes the center of a pediment is missing as is the one over the doorway, above. Once again the intention is drama and excitement.


Fig. 11 Here we can see Corinthian columns used not so much to fulfill some important structural purpose, which they do, but rather to dramatically frame the chancel and altar –looking something like a stage set. The heavy overhanging cornices and use of multiple columns are typical of Baroque. Italian Baroque employs more classical architectural forms (columns, arches, domes, coffered vaults, etc.) than those in other countries.

There were a few Protestant and other non-Catholic churches built in the Baroque style. Mostly, however, it was/is considered a Catholic style.6   The Baroque reveals a sensual delight in the physical world and is a uniquely Catholic attitude in that Catholicism understands the created world as essentially good and capable of acting sacramentally –predisposing the faithful to receive divine grace.


1 One of the great cultural developments of the Baroque period was Opera. There are obvious comparisons between Opera and Baroque church art in such things as staging and rich vestments. Masters such as Mozart and Beethoven composed elaborate Masses for orchestra and choirs. The congregation would usually be seated to listen to, for example, the Gloria and Credo or the liturgical action would pause to wait for the singing of a Kyrie, or Sanctus.

2 McNamara, Dennis R., How to Read Churches: A Crash Course in Ecclesiastical Architecture, (New York, Rizzoli International Publications, Inc., 2011) p 42

3 Toman, Rolf ed., Baroque Architecture, Sculpture, Painting, (China, Ullmann & Konemann, 2004) p. 10

Toman 10

5   Chancel railings or screens  had always been a part of most churches but it was during the Baroque period that they were apparently transformed into long communion tables (railings). The faithful approached the altar and knelt along the railing to receive communion. There is evidence that (Bishop) Saint Charles Borromeo may have been the first to order, in Milan, that churches be equipped with a table style chancel railing at which the faithful may kneel.

6  The Baroque style was not limited to use by the Church but was also adopted by monarchical and absolutist governments to enhance the appearance of secular power and authority.



Fig. 1 Bernard Dick  Fig. 2 edited: Calvin.html # Document=8727. “Le Paradis” a Calvinist Temple, 1564  Fig. 3 edited: Dirk van Delen (circa 1604/1605–1671) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons. The organised destruction of Catholic images, or Beeldenstorm, swept through Netherlands churches in 1566.  Fig. 4 edited: By Tango7174 (Own work) [GFDL ( or CC BY-SA 4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 ( licenses/by-sa/4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0)], via Wikimedia Commons. Triump of the Name of Jesus . Curch of the Gesus in Rome  Fig. 5 edited: Francesco Borromini [CC BY-SA 3.0 ( or GFDL (], via Wikimedia Commons: Floor plan the Church of San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane  Fig. 6 “Southern Orders” blog: receiving-holy-communion-at-dining.html Fig. 7  Bernard Dick Fig.8 baroko%20italie/slides/045b%20Bra, %20S% 20Chiara, %20Bernardo%20Vittone,%201742.jpg.  Fig. 9 Chiesa di San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane, Facciata di Francesco Borromini, Roma, 1638-67, 9/3/2007 by Council.  Fig. 10 By user:Lalupa (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons. Santa Maria in Campitelli, Rome  Fig. 11 By SteO153 (Own work) [GFDL (, CC-BY-SA-3.0 ( or CC BY-SA 2.5-2.0-1.0 ( licenses/by-sa/2.5-2.0-1.0)], via Wikimedia Commons. Santa Maria in Campitelli.


Building Real Churches Again

January 21st, 2015, Promulgated by Bernie

We may have left the period of building churches that look like “non-churches”. The craziness may be over. Le’s hope so.

Here is a link to a post about the dedication of a new Catholic Church in South Carolina. Those who have been following my series on Church Architecture Styles will recognize the Early Christian basilica style of the interior and the atrium outside. The facade is Italian Renaissance. The advancing three dimensional nature of the facade and concave scroll buttresses joining the top level of the facade to the wider lower level suggest the Baroque style (which I have not yet covered in the series on styles).

There are several photos and artist renderings you can see by following the link.

From the New Liturgical Movement website:

01 Aerial Perspective - Final smallest

See more photos here.

Another Side Chapel in France

January 21st, 2015, Promulgated by Bernie


French Side Chapels

January 15th, 2015, Promulgated by Bernie


(Click on pictures to enlarge.)

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Maximize the Beauty of the Liturgy

January 8th, 2015, Promulgated by Bernie

Epiphany 2015

Post by Gregory Dipippo

From the New Liturgical Movement

Dr. Peter Kwasniewski, Resurgent in the Midst of Crisis, chapter 1

Very short but spot on:

Jesus was born in a humble stable and placed in a manger, true. But the Wise Men did not bring Him straw, dirt, and dung; they brought Him costly royal gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. The way in which Our Lord was born revealed His humility, which disdains earthly pomp; the way in which the three kings adored him revealed…

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A Beauty in New York City

December 30th, 2014, Promulgated by Bernie
web OurLadyGoodCounselInt1

Our Lady of Good Counsel, NYC

(Click on picture to enlarge)

More pictures at Our Lady of Good Counsel (click on pictures to enlarge). The website looks to be mostly about the church’s organ so if you are interested in pipe organs then you get the pleasure of reading about that as well.

Church Architecture Styles: Italian Renaissance

December 22nd, 2014, Promulgated by Bernie

Previously in this series:

1. “House” Churches  2. Early Christian  3. Byzantine

4. Romanesque  5. “Pilgrimage Churches”  6. Gothic

 (Click on pictures to see larger images)


Fig. 1

By the 14th century the city of Rome had been littered with ancient Roman ruins for at least nine centuries. The knowledge of Roman architectural principles and engineering know-how had begun fading from memory with the collapse of the Western Roman Empire in 476.

It would not be until the 14th century that interest in studying and relearning classical architecture was once again stimulated.

Francesco Petrarca  (“Petrarch” in English), d. 1374, was an Italian intellectual and poet and one of the

first ‘humanists.’ 2

He rediscovered some letters of the ancient philosopher Cicero and it was that discovery that is generally considered the start of the rebirth (renaissance) of classical learning.


Fig. 2 Petrarch

Petrarch was also drawn to ancient Roman civilization by the classical ruins that were everywhere in Rome.  The antique buildings, even in their ruined state, inspired him. His contemplation of Cicero’s philosophy and his contemplation of the ancient ruins led him to judge Roman civilization as enlightened. Petrarch considered “dark” the time between the period of ancient Rome and the 14th century, as the light of classical learning had been lost during those centuries

Inspired by Petrarch, many Renaissance artists/architects from the 14th through the 16th century went to Rome and traipsed among the classical ruins, sketching, measuring, and trying to rediscover the architectural theories and skills of the ancient Romans. One of these was Leone Baptista Alberti who, in addition to studying the ruins, studied and promoted the theories of Vitruvius (ca. 80-15 BC), an ancient Roman theorist and architect.

Vitruvius & column

Fig. 3 ( L) A 1684 depiction of Vitruvius presenting his architectural theories to the Roman Emperor Augustus ca. 20 BC.  (R) The human proportions of a column and capital.

Vitruvius3 had taught that architecture should imitate nature by employing the proportions of the human body in determining designs. As a bird builds a nest in proportions based on its use by a bird, so human architecture should be constructed according to human proportions.

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Fig. 4 The proportions of the parts of a classical order determined by the proportions of the face, head, and upper torso of a person.

Vitruvius, in Book III of his treatise De Architectura, described the human figure as being the principal source of proportion among the Greek classical orders (Doric, Ionic, Corinthian) of architecture. His thoughts of basing architecture on human proportions was later  graphically and famously represented by Leonardo da Vinci in his Vitruvian Man: the human body inscribed in a circle and a square which were understood as THE fundamental geometric patterns of the cosmic order.

Da_Vinci_Vitruve_Luc_Viatour 2

Fig. 5 Leonard’s illustration of Vitruvian Man.

With this rediscovered ‘truth’ in mind, Alberti uttered the condescending term ‘Gothic’ as a synonym for ‘crude’ in describing the (then) modern French Gothic style, currently popular across Europe. Georgio Vasari, a few years later after Alberti’s quip, referred to the Gothic style as forms to be avoided in architecture, calling them “monstrous and barbarous”. Gothic architecture, to both Alberti and Vasari, was a debased style, one that departed from classical truth and beauty. Both advocated for the use of classical Greek and Roman forms.

How is it that a Roman arch, for example, could be considered more true or beautiful than a Gothic pointed arch?


Fig. 6

The round arch is half a circle and the circle is one the fundamental geometric forms of Vitruvian Man. In addition, the ratio of half a circle to a whole circle is constant and stable, unchanging, no matter the size of the circle. The height of a round arch is always one half the span or diameter of a circle. Implicit in the round arch, the reasoning goes, is an underlying sense of cosmic order; a sense of calm, peacefulness, correctness, regularity, perfection –beauty.

The Gothic pointed arch on the other has no inherent, essential order. The proportion of the height of the arch to the width of the span is variable. The peak of the arch could be raised to any height over a span. The result is unpredictable, unsettling, irregular, and suggestive of imperfection, of not being based on any essential, unchanging, stabilizing truth.

Also, the pointed arch, rising in two opposing movements that collide, seems to create a sense of tension whereas the round arch seems to communicate a sense of calm by its smooth continuous curve. Tension is the antithesis of calming truth.

Consider the differences in the possible Christian interpretations of the two kinds of arches. One style of arch, the round arch, suggests the perfection and peacefulness of the redeemed status of man FOLLOWING the Incarnation while the other, the Gothic pointed arch, suggests the unstable, fallen or un-redeemed status of man BEFORE the Incarnation. The Roman round arch would therefore seem to be more appropriate for the Christian church building which, after all, represents the “new Jerusalem”, where sin and death are no more, where stability and peacefulness has been restored.

But, Greek and Roman architecture had been created for a pagan society and used in constructing pagan temples. Was celebrating ancient Greek and Roman architectural expressions a celebration of pagan beliefs? No, it was not. To the Renaissance thinkers, writers, artists and theologians the ancients might have been pagan but in their own way, through rational thinking, had been searching for God, for truth. The truth they discovered on the way –granted to them, after all, by God– should, finally, be Christianized (or ‘baptized’,  if you will) and used to glorify God.

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Fig. 7 Circular and square plans –centralized plans, in general– were very popular with Renaissance architects as the circle and square were believed to be the fundamental geometric patterns of the cosmic order. (L) The Tempietto, Rome,1502 by Bramante; (R) Michelangelo’s plan for Saint Peter’s Basilica in Rome.

The Renaissance style of church architecture therefore employs classical Greek and Roman architectural forms and motifs as they were believed to be the most appropriate for Christian churches (as well as all buildings). They were reflective of God’s original cosmic order before the fall of man and were appropriately derived, by human reason, from the proportions of the human body –man being God’s most important creation.

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Fig. 8 The Italian Renaissance style makes use of antique columns, entablatures, cornices, niches, niches with statues,  domes, round arches, temple-like fronts with pediments and tall attached columns or flat pilasters. The decoration in the interior is often restricted to a few contained shapes. A subtle limited palette of colors normally predominates. Pictured here is the interior and exterior of Il Redentore, in Venice; Andrea Palladio, begun ca. 1566

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Fig. 9 Pazzi Chapel, in Florence, 1429 – ca. 1461; Filippo Brunelleschi

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Fig. 10 Saint Peter’s Basilica, begun 1506 and completed 1626, was the result of the work of a succession of famous Renaissance artists: Bramante, Raphael, Michelangelo, and Maderno. It was Maderno who designed the facade toward the end of the Italian Renaissance. The Baroque artist Bernini would eventually complete the complex with his key shaped piazza and colonnaded walk ways (not shown here).

The Renaissance style that developed from this philosophy was used by a variety of patrons for a variety of purposes. Institutions, including the Church, used the association with ancient Rome to enhance their claim to authority. Wealthy individuals and families used the style in designing their palaces and villas — even churches they sponsored– so as to present themselves as educated. Merchants and cities wore the style as a badge of success.

One of Leone Baptista Alberti’s first architectural works was the rebuilding of an old church belonging to the tyrant of Rimini, Sigismondo Malatesta . Sigismondo intended the rebuilding of the church more as a memorial to himself and his family than as any symbol of rendering glory to God. In solving the usual problem of designing a facade for a basilica, Alberti seized upon the triumphal arch design used by ancient Rome to honor victorious generals. It seemed appropriate in a church bent on honoring a secular ruler more than God. The lower level of new facade of the church therefore resembles a three portal triumphal arch. (What we see today of the rebuilt church is actually only a fragment of Alberti’s design.)

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Fig. 11 Alberti’s design for the rebuilding of Sigismondo’s church in Rimini. Tempio Malatestiano, ca. 1450

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Fig. 12 Alberti’s design for the facade of San Andrea (15th c.) in Mantua. Note the play on the classical triumphal arch theme (what amounts to three triumphal arches!) in the bottom zone and a classical temple pediment above. The barrel vaults, multi-story classical order pilasters, heavy cornices and niches  are all characteristics of Italian Renaissance church architecture.

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Fig. 13 Ancient Roman structures like these inspired Alberti’s work.

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Fig. 14 The interior of Alberti’s San Andrea with  classical barrel vaults, dome and giant pilasters.

The Italian Renaissance style, like the French Gothic style, underwent numerous adaptations when it encountered local traditions in building. It even meshed with aspects of the Gothic in some places.


1 Romanesque style builders had returned to the idea of masonry Roman vaulting but little else that we would consider Roman. Even in that their efforts had been tentative, not really understanding Roman engineering techniques.

2 Humanism is a philosophical and ethical stance that emphasizes the value and agency of human beings, individually and collectively, and generally prefers critical thinking and evidence (rationalism, empiricism) over established doctrine or faith (fideism).  []

3 His book De architectura was rediscovered in 1414 by the Florentine humanist Poggio Bracciolini. To Leon Battista Alberti (1404–1472) falls the honor of making this work widely known in his seminal treatise on architecture De re aedificatoria (c. 1450)  []

Photo Credits: Fig. 3 (L) By Sebastian Le Clerc [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons, (R) Public domain. Fig. 4 Scanned from Trattato di architettura di Francesco di Giorgio Martini by Francesco di Giorgio, Fig. 5 Leonardo da Vinci [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons, Fig. 6 Bernard Dick. Fig. 7 (L)By Space Odissey (Flickr) [CC-BY-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons, (R) Michelangelo’s plan, Léon Palustre [Public domain], via Wikimedia. Fig. 8 (L) Interior of Il Redentore, Venice.<br>From English Wikipedia. Photo taken by Necrothesp, 13 May 2004 {{GFDL}} (R) By Il_Redentore.jpg: Wknight94 derivative work: Alberto Fernandez Fernandez (Il_Redentore.jpg) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons. Fig. 9 By Gryffindor [GFDL ( or CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons Interior of the Pazzi Chapel. Fig. 10 Maderno’s façade, with the statues of Sts Peter (left) & Paul (right) flanking the entrance stairs By Jean-Pol GRANDMONT (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 ( or GFDL (], via Wikimedia Commons. Fig. 11 By Michele1978rimini (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons, Fig. 12 By Sebi1 (Wikipedia Commons) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons,,_Mantua. Fig. 13 (L) By User:Alexander Z. (Own work) [GFDL ( or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons, (R) By Danichou (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons, Fig. 14 By Tango7174 (Own work) [GFDL ( or CC BY-SA 4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

St. John Chrysostom Church Restores Beauty In Los Angeles

December 17th, 2014, Promulgated by Bernie

From the “Regina” blog


The church remained a humble, yet beautiful space until a series of “renovations” climaxed in 1995. In the last two years, however, the parishioners of St John’s have entrusted the sensitive restoration and decoration of the church to Enzo Selvaggi of Heritage Liturgical.

In this interview, Enzo discusses this enormously successful project.

Read more here.

Here’s Why You Hate Round Churches

December 11th, 2014, Promulgated by Bernie

by  on the Patheos Website Here

Have you noticed that nobody loves modern churches? Nobody. I mean NOBODY.


Seriously. Have you ever met anyone who sees a church like this and and heard them whisper, “I just love that church! It is so inspiring!”

interior round

That’s because these buildings were not designed to inspire awe or to remind you about the presence of God. They are  people centered, not God centered. They are auditoria not temples.

There is a gut level negative respond to these buildings. Even those who have got used to them make comments like, “Well, it’s our church and we’re doing the best we can.” Worse still, they have grown up with these monstrosities and they do not know of anything else.

I have spent the last week in central Missouri worshipping in a…       Read More Here

Thank you Raymond Rice for forwarding to us this link to Patheos.


The ‘already’ entering our ‘not yet.’

December 4th, 2014, Promulgated by Bernie

From the New Liturgical Movement December 1, 2014

The Book of Revelation: Guide to Catholic Worship by PETER KWASNIEWSKI

Liturgy is anticipated Parousia, the ‘already’ entering our ‘not yet.’

…the book of Revelation offered help to the nascent church in discerning what elements of Old Covenant worship to retain within the new worship of the New Covenant, inasmuch as the new both concludes and includes the old. In short: the Church can, and should, have buildings, ministers, candlesticks, chalices, incense, vestments, because her worship, being ordered to and derived from Jesus Christ, is the perfection of all that the old worship pointed to with these typological symbols, as yet to be fulfilled. They do not cease to be the symbols we need in order to perceive and enter into communion with Christ; they acquire a new purpose as symbols that point to a reality accomplished, a salvation won on the Cross, a glory shared with the faithful who may now enter heaven.

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Something Important Happens Here!

November 28th, 2014, Promulgated by Bernie

Do you remember when Catholic churches used to scream “SOMETHING IMPORTANT HAPPENS HERE!”? Do you remember travelling and stopping into a the local Catholic church to see what it looked like and expecting to be wowed or satisfied?

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The Loss of the Unifying

November 20th, 2014, Promulgated by Bernie

The deterioration, degradation, dumb-ing down, localizing and secularizing of Catholic liturgy over the last 45 years, in the Rochester diocese, in the United States, and indeed throughout much of the world, has removed the major unifying factor of the church. Some would say that the pope is the unifying factor of the Church, but that isn’t the case. The unifying factor is –or should be– the Eucharistic liturgy. This essential fact to appreciate came to mind this morning as I read the following paragraph in “Byzantine Theology: historical trends and doctrinal themes” by John Meyendorff.

In Eastern Christendom, the Eucharistic liturgy, more than anything else, is identified with the reality of the Church itself, for it manifests both the humiliation of God in assuming mortal flesh, and the mysterious presence among men of the eschatological kingdom. It points at the central realities of the faith not through concepts but through symbols and signs intelligible to the entire worshiping congregation. This centrality of the Eucharist is actually the real key to the Byzantine understanding of the church, both hierarchical and corporate; the Church is universal, but truly realized only in the local Eucharistic assembly, at which a group of sinful men and women becomes fully the people of God.

This Eucharistic-centered concept of the Church led the Byzantines to embellish and adorn the sacrament with an elaborate and sometimes cumbersome ceremonial, and with an extremely rich hymnography, in daily, weekly, paschal, and yearly cycle besides the sacramental ecclesiology implied by the Eucharist itself, these hymnographical cycles constitute a real source of theology. For centuries the Byzantines not only heard theological lesson and wrote and read theological treatises; they also sang and contemplated daily the Christian mystery in a liturgy, whose wealth of expression cannot be found elsewhere in the Christian world. Even after the fall of Byzantium, when Eastern Christians were deprived of schools, books, and all intellectual leadership, the liturgy remained the chief teacher and guide of Orthodoxy. Translated into the various vernacular languages of the Byzantine world–Slavic, Georgian, Arabic, and dozens of others–the liturgy was also a powerful expression of unity in faith and sacramental life.

The arrival and proliferation of ‘liturgy committees’ with their silliness of the week programs has done much damage to the unifying nature of the liturgy. I remember a visiting priest in a parish I belonged to being asked by the reader and announcer “What is the theme today?” The priest asked “What theme?” The person explained “The theme of your sermon and Mass”. The priest answered “What it always is, The life, death, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ”.

The typical Catholic Mass in the United States always seems to be about something else.

Church Architecture Styles: Gothic

November 18th, 2014, Promulgated by Bernie

Previously in this series:

1. “House” Churches

2. Early Christian

3. Byzantine

4. Romanesque

5. “Pilgrimage Churches”

The style we call ‘Gothic’originated toward the middle of the 12th century in the northern part of France, surrounding Paris, called the “Île-de-France”.

(Click on pictures to see larger images)


Fig. 1

The architectural characteristics of the Gothic style resulted from the pursuit of three perceived needs. First, there was a desire to increase the amount of light flowing into churches.  Because of their thick heavy walls and supports and small windows the Romanesque churches had been rather dark. Second, a more open plan was desired to better accommodate the needs of the liturgy and larger crowds. Third, there was the somewhat vain and dubious desire to attain spectacular heights. In was in arriving at solutions that the Gothic style emerged.

As the masons accomplished their tasks and increasingly attained the three goals, aesthetic and spiritual interpretations came to mind that were inspired by the results 2. The increased light flowing into the new churches through large stained glass windows began to be understood as a metaphor for divine luminosity.

Fig. 2

Fig. 2

The more open spacious plan began to be understood as a metaphor for divine unity and harmony.

Fig. 3

Fig. 3

Increased height suggested soaring spirituality.

Fig. 4

Fig. 4

These metaphysical interpretations inspired patrons and masons to even greater achievements along the same lines.

Fig. 5

Fig. 5

The exteriors of the great Gothic cathedrals appear as huge skeletons to viewers: spiky piers and pinnacles, and soaring buttresses –but no walls, no meat. Where walls would normally be, there are windows. To reach the first two goals of Gothic builders –to admit more light into the church and to open up the interior space—the number and sizes of windows needed to be increased and solid walls and thick bulky supports, decreased.


Fig. 6

The builders did that by concentrating and directing the weight of the vaults and overall structure down more vertical support lines to relatively small points on the ground. By doing that they were able to reduce or even eliminate walls.

Fig. 6

Fig. 7

The resulting view from the inside of many of these magnificent structures can often remind people of a birdcage, from the bird’s point of view.

Fig. 7

Fig. 8

Not only was more light allowed to flow into the building, and the floor space opened-up, but the structural supports, thinned and lengthened, appeared as vertical lines leading the eyes upward. Furthermore, the increased effectiveness and efficiency in the support or thrust system allowed the construction of ever taller buildings. With this, all three goals were met and resulted in a style of church architecture that has become an icon of Christianity in the West.

The basic architectural form of the Gothic style is the pointed arch. It directs the weight above downward in a more vertical direction than the round Romanesque arch. This allowed for thinner piers and walls 3. The more outward thrust of the round arch required thick piers and walls to keep the arches from caving in.

Fig. 8

Fig. 9

The same general principle applies to the pointed Gothic vaults compared to the round Romanesque vaults. The ribs used in Gothic vaults, however, may have had a more functional use in directing stress downward than the more decorative ribs of the round Romanesque groin vaults. The ribs of the Gothic vaults were apparently used to support the placement of the webbing material until the vaults were completed. They directed the stress thrust of the web material down to the vertical piers between the windows. Ribbed vaults are also a major architectural form characteristic of the Gothic style.

Fig. 9

Fig. 10

Finally, the so called flying buttress is a prominent architectural characteristic of Gothic. It transferred the stress, weight, or thrust from the interior vaults and piers to ‘flying’ buttresses that flew over the roofs of the side aisles of the building to tower buttresses outside the structure. Some would argue that the buttresses actually work by pushing against the clerestory piers, counteracting the thrust from the vaults and locking the elements into a rigid structure. Whatever the case may be these buttresses  lightened the work of the piers inside the building so that they could be less massive.

Fig. 11

Fig. 11

Fig. 12

Fig. 12

Stained glass windows are also, of course, a characteristic of the Gothic style 4. In the quest for more abundant light came the increase in the space devoted to stained glass windows Stained glass was already in use in the Romanesque style. One aspect of the Gothic windows in particular is uniquely Gothic: tracery. Tracery is the stonework elements that support the glass in a Gothic window. The term probably derives from the ‘tracing floors’ on which the complex patterns of late Gothic windows were laid out. There are different types of tracery worthy of study but we will keep it simple here by just illustrating a couple of  examples.

Fig. 13

Fig. 13

Fig. 14

Fig. 14

The Gothic style lasted into the 16th century after passing through different phases or developments. The one country that resisted the Gothic was Italy. The cathedral in Milan was the only really true Gothic church constructed in Italy. Some others make use of pointed arches but do not stress height or utilize flying buttress. They are labelled “Italian Gothic” but are clearly in a class of their own that has little resemblance to the “French Gothic style”. England produced a version of Gothic more closely allied with the French style 5.

Fig. 16

Fig. 15  Milan Cathedral, Italy

Fig. 16

Fig. 16  Santa Croce, Florence, Italy. ‘Italian’ Gothic

The Italians actually developed a style in conscious opposition to the Gothic. Called the “Renaissance” style, we will explore that next in this series. I hope some folks out there are finding this series helpful even though it is rather academic.



1 The term ‘Gothic’ originally was used as a term of derision, meaning ‘barbaric’. It was used by Italians of the Renaissance Period who saw the new ‘French” style as a rejection of classical forms. The root word of ‘Gothic’ is Goth which is the name of a variety of barbarian tribes that had immigrated or otherwise overrun the Roman Empire but settled mostly in the north and in Spain.

2 This a debatable point as there are differences of opinion as to whether theological thinking inspired the Gothic style or whether the style developed as simple architectural development. I have tried to represent these two views by offering a possible interplay but granting the initiative to architectural developments.

3 This is somewhat relative. Gothic piers may have in some cases remained as thick as their Romanesque precursors but the space covered by the arches or vaults was greater in the Gothic structures.

4 Stained glass was actually an Arabic innovation and import into Europe from the near East. It had been used in Romanesque churches but the Gothic windows were so much larger.

5 English Gothic Cathedral naves and choirs are generally longer than the French Gothic structures. They also tend to end in squared off apses or East ends rather than the rounded style of the continent. While transepts in the French Gothic style seldom extended very far, if at all, beyond the limits of the exterior walls of the side aisles, they obviously do so in the English style. Two or even three transept arms were often used in English Gothic cathedrals in contrast to one in the French style. Elaborate tracery and ribbing was also more common in England. In all though the English cathedrals are recognizably ‘Gothic’.


Picture Credits/Sources: Fig. 1 Il-de-France By TUBS [GFDL ( or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons. Fig. 2 AmirwikiThis file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license. Fig. 3 Fig. 4 Bernie Dick. Fig. 5. Taxiarchos228 at the German language Wikipedia [GFDL ( or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], from Wikimedia Commons. Fig. 6 Saint-Denis’ Basilica in Paris – sought approval to use but no response. “Jeff Titelius |”. Fig. 7 This work has been released into the public domain by its author, Hill. author: w:it:utente:Hill {{PD}}. Fig. 8 By Bordeled (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons. Fig. 9 edited by Bernie Dick, artist unknown. Fig. 10 By Magnus Manske (Made by Magnus Manske.) [CC-BY-SA-1.0 (, GFDL ( or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons. Labelled by Bernie Dick. Fig. 11 labelled by Bernie Dick, artist’s name has been lost. Fig. 12. labelled by Bernie Dick, (Passport To Design website); approval to use sought but no response. Fig. 13 By User:Magadan, modified TTaylor (wikimedia commons) [GFDL (, CC-BY-SA-3.0 (, GFDL ( or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Common. Fig. 14 By Dmitry Tonkonog and Ksenia Fedosova (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons. Fig. 15 By Jiuguang Wang (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 ( or GFDL (], via Wikimedia Commons. Fig. 16 photo by [[User:Radomil|Radomil}}<br>{{GFDL}} The interior of Santa Croce, Florence

Church Architecture Styles: “Pilgrimage Churches”

October 27th, 2014, Promulgated by Bernie

“House Churches”

Early Christian Style

Byzantine Style

Romanesque Style

The cult of relics has been around since the very beginning of Christianity. Christians worshiped at the graves of saints and martyrs located in cemeteries outside the walls of cities. Altars (stone mensa) were erected over the graves so that during the celebration of Mass the sacrifice of the martyrs could be associated with Christ’s sacrifice.

(Click on pictures to see larger images)


Fig. 1 The mensa (altar) over the grave of Saint Lawrence. The small chapel and mensa are below the high altar of the church that was constructed above the site. The tiny chapel is called a ‘confessio’.

It is often said that many martyrs’ relics were later transferred into city churches as a precaution against sacrilege committed by marauding barbarians. That may have been true in some cases but, more likely, Christian leaders simply needed the relics transferred to more convenient locations within the cities. Initially, the pope forbade the removal of corpses from their original tombs but the ban did not stick. Finally, a complete reversal of policy occurred at the Council of Carthage (401) which declared that all altars should contain relics (it didn’t really matter how large the relic was).


Fig. 2 The crypt in the cathedral church of Speyer, Germany.

The transferred relics were normally housed in the crypts of churches, in a small chamber (or ‘confessio’) under the altar where the faithful could often get a glimpse of the relics through a window. Crypts varied in size depending upon the popularity of the relic. To accommodate large crowds some crypts were enlarged with a passageway around the inside of the exterior wall of the crypt with additional passage ways leading directly to the relics and on to the other side. This created a more orderly flow to the crush of pilgrims.

Further increase in pilgrimage activity presented major headaches for those who had to manage the crush of huge crowds packing churches, especially on holy days and feast days. One abbot claimed that his monks were forced to jump through windows with the relics in hand in order to escape rioting crowds!

By 1130 or so crypt storage and display of relics was becoming obsolete. Increasing crowds and changes in liturgical practices led to the display of relics in elaborate shrines or reliquaries. These were usually placed directly behind and above the most important altar (high altar) of the church. The change stimulated the religious fervor of the pilgrim even more as the sumptuous caskets containing the relics and the new elevated location heightened the experience of the sanctity of the relics.


Fig. 3 The reliquary of the Three Kings over the high altar of Cologne Cathedral, Germany.

There were many pilgrimage churches. The medieval travel guide “Pilgrim’s Guide” (1130) mentioned 26 shrines that could be visited on the routes leading from France to Santiago de Compostela, alone. (Not to mention Rome and Jerusalem.) Few have much in common in how they architecturally dealt with crowd control. Five, however, solved the problem in a similar way that has become known as the “pilgrimage church” style. These five are not, however, representative of pilgrimage churches as a whole but did have considerable influence on subsequent church buildings.

The five churches vary among themselves in many aspects but generally share in dealing with crowd control by including in their plans an ambulatory and radiating chapels. Pilgrims could walk up the side aisles of the nave and then continue on around the high altar and then down the opposite side of the church. This system caused a minimum of distraction and interference  with the daily liturgical offices being celebrated in the Choir and Chancel.

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Fig. 4

Pilgrimage churches usually possessed many relics worthy of veneration in addition to the main one at the high altar. The small chapels radiating out to the outside of the ambulatory provided ideal places to display those. In addition, visiting priests could offer private or small group Masses in the radiating chapels. The arrangement resulted in a beautiful semi-circular east end of the church.

web label ambulatory

Fig. 5

The exterior is impressive as the clearly defined geometric forms stacked up starting with the low chapels and stepping up to the slightly higher roof over the ambulatory, and then to the higher apse roof and chancel roof, and finally culminating in the tower over the crossing; all creating the ‘stepped massing’ characteristic of Romanesque.

web label Dehio_212_Cluny

Fig. 6

The ‘pilgrimage church’ design combined functional problem solving with beautiful proportion, harmony and rhythm. It became one of the most impressive of medieval architectural expressions.


Text sources: Early Medieval Architecture, Roger Stalley, (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1999)

Picture Sources: Fig. 1 By Sibeaster (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons; Fig. 2 Bernard Dick (Own Work); Fig. 3 website <>; Fig 4 By José-Manuel Benito (uploaded from wikimedia commons) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons, labeled by Bernard Dick; Fig. 5 website <>; Fig. 6 This image is taken from Georg Dehio/Gustav von Bezold: Kirchliche Baukunst des Abendlandes. This is a faithful photographic reproduction of a two-dimensional, public domain work of art, labeled and highlighted by Bernard Dick.

Church Architecture Styles: Romanesque

October 7th, 2014, Promulgated by Bernie

Previously in this series:

“House Churches”

Early Christian Style

Byzantine Style

Early medieval church architecture is Romanesque in style.

With the collapse of the Roman Empire in the west ca. 476 and the division of the west into competing barbarian kingdoms, urban life declined and cities depopulated with the result that the demand for large church basilicas dried-up. Masonry skills declined and church architecture entered a period of small proprietary wooden structures in rural settings –usually on manors or large estates.

The rise of monasticism, the advent of pilgrimage fever due to the cult of relics, the return of economic prosperity, and the attempt on the part of Charlemagne to resurrect the glory of the Roman Empire inspired the construction of large, impressive churches once again. The ‘Roman’ in ‘Romanesque’ refers to the return to ancient Roman masonry construction and the use of the round arch as the main structural form in buildings. Detailing and the arrangement of forms, however, were not ‘Roman’ but rather expressions of local or regional tradition.

(Be sure to click on the pictures to see details)

double arches

Fig. 1 The Roman ’round arch’ is the basic structural element of the Romanesque style. Built in 1061, the three level Romanesque nave wall of “Southwell Minster” in England (on the left, above) is remarkably similar to an ancient Roman aqueduct built in the first century (on the right). Both use thick heavy supports. Almost without exception Romanesque churches make use of the Roman round arch. Notice, however, that the arcade columns in the left picture are not ‘Roman’ but, rather, heavy cylinders that are decidedly not ‘classical’. Nor are the attached clustered or ‘compound columns/piers’ on the second level. “Romanesque” means ‘Roman’ in some ways but also ‘not Roman’, in other ways.

groin vs barrel

Fig. 2 Romanesque builders resurrected the ancient Roman use of masonry vaulted ceilings.

Stone or masonry ceilings added an element of grandeur prized by both secular and ecclesiastical leaders during the 9th through 12th centuries. In addition to its symbolic purpose masonry ceilings also had a functional purpose: they were fire proof. Timbered ceilings of the early Christian period were a disadvantage during the destructive raids of some marauding barbarians. Stone vaults, however, require thick walls to keep them up. Windows were therefore kept fairly small in size and few in number until building skills and knowledge increased.

Due to having to relearn engineering possibilities, Romanesque churches tend to have a somewhat heavy appearance that conveys a feeling of strength, determination, and power perhaps calling to mind the hymn “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God”.

Corvey double

Fig. 3 On the left is how this church might have looked in 873-885 and (on the right) how it looks today.

It was during the Romanesque period that the west front of churches began to sport towers and impressive porches. It is not known why towers were added to churches. Monastic churches had bell towers presumably to call the monks in from the surrounding area multiple times a day for prayers.  It is possible that in ‘secular’ churches the design conjured the idea of the church as a spiritual fortress as towers were an important part of defensive systems. It may be that they were simply meant to be impressive, reflective of the power and influence of the patrons who sponsored their construction: emperors, kings, bishops and lords. Saint Bernard of Clairvaux banned the use of towers in the construction of his abbey churches because he considered them pretentious and a waste of money –too worldly. Whatever the original intent –and regardless of Bernard’s objection– towers became a standard part of church architecture beginning in the Romanesque period.

three facades

Fig. 4 (Left) Even without a tower a Romanesque church can appear strong and fortified. (Middle) Towers and a multi-level porch with a chapel above constitute what is called a ‘westwork’. (Far Right) This simple proprietary church on an English manor has a square tower over the altar end of the building.

name 2design ground plan elevation

Fig. 5 The basic Roman basilica –nave and side aisles– are at the core of Romanesque buildings. ‘Transepts’ –what appear to be arms extending out past the width of the basilica– became a standard part of church architecture during the Romanesque period. (Transepts were not an innovation as they are found in some early Christian basilicas, especially in Saint Peter’s and in Saint Paul’s in Rome.) A tower commonly sits atop where the nave and transepts cross (the ‘crossing tower’). Towers are ubiquitous in the Romanesque style as in the monastic abbey church shown above. They could be square, round, or polygonal. Even domes became popular in some regions. Some Romanesque churches have ‘opposing apses’; one on the east end where the high altar is located and one on the west end where often there is a chapel or shrine housing a saint’s tomb. The shrines are on the second level which visually communicates with the ground floor (and perhaps even a third floor) by openings in the floor (and ceiling). Note the ‘dripping arches’ under the eaves (explained in the next illustration).

double hierarchic

Fig. 6 Here is a crossing tower that illustrates two other common Romanesque features. The ‘Lombard band’ is a decorative line-up of what we might call “dripping arches” and is usually found just below eaves. “Lombard” comes from “Lombard Kingdom” where that particular decorative element apparently originated. ‘Encompassing arches’ surround one, two or three smaller arches (‘double arches’) supported by columns. They, in turn, can frame ‘recessed arches’ that are a step back into the space of the window or door from the front ones. The Romanesque aesthetic here is hierarchic: spaces are defined and then subdivided into smaller or less prominent elements. The tower in the example above is itself composed of sides divided into levels by cornices or eaves which create near square rectangles that enclose all the arch elements.

Fig. 7  In the left photo we see that the Lombard band under the eaves has become an arcade. It's called a 'blind arcade' because it's only decorative; the spaces in the archways are walled-in. The Pisa Cathedral on the right makes use of alternating tall blind arcades on the ground level and actual (although not practical) arcades on the levels above.

Fig. 7 In the left photo we see that the Lombard band under the eaves has become an arcade. It’s called a ‘blind arcade’ because it’s only decorative; the spaces in the archways are walled-in. The Pisa Cathedral in Italy, on the right, makes use of tall blind arcades on the ground level and actual (although not practical) arcades on the levels above.

A Romanesque innovation was the ‘engaged’ or ‘attached column/shaft’. This element added a sense of height to the flat nave walls that were characteristic of the early Christian basilica.

engaged column

Fig. 8 From the tops of the ‘attached columns/shafts’ spring ‘transverse arches’ which cross the vault and join up to the engaged columns on the opposite side of the nave. The entire space between two shafts and transverse arches is called a ‘bay’. A nave can be described as having 3 or 4 or 5 or any number of ‘bays’. Notice also that Romanesque churches often had two or three levels: the bottom level or ‘nave arcade’, the second level or ‘gallery’ and the top level or ‘clerestory’ (which we saw in the early Christian basilica). Nave galleries are somewhat baffling as they were apparently not used. Often they were shallow with the exterior wall so close behind the arches as to make it impossible or extremely dangerous to walk. Others screen an actual usable space. Seldom did the galleries  include any railings which also suggests they were not used except for perhaps access to the upper levels for maintenance. It is possible that galleries were an eastern influence where they were actually used for congregational space.

Column capitals, and doorways (portals) are the primary locations of Romanesque sculpture. The style of sculpture varies widely but it is generally stylized (not realistic) and, for the most part, fills architecturally defined shapes.

double cpita

Fig. 9 Romanesque capitals were often carved with figures, like the one on the left above, but not always. They could be as plain and as basic as the ‘cubic capital’ shown on the right. They could also be abstract or organic patterns similar to Byzantine capitals.

‘Recessed orders’ are typical of Romanesque doorways (and windows). Columns (usually attached) and the corresponding arches they support (‘archivolts’) step back in actual space leading the eye into the building. Portals are a prime location for Romanesque sculpture.


Fig. 10 ‘Recessed orders’ add a telescoping visual pull. The amount and sophistication of sculpture varies widely in Romanesque doorways.

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Fig. 11 Often the normally empty space defined by the curve of the arch in a portal is filled in with what is called a ‘tympanum’ panel. This creates a half circle that is usually filled with sculpture.

labeled double Durham

Fig. 12 One of my favorites: “Durham Cathedral”, England. This is monumental Romanesque (which is called the “Norman” style in England). Some elements here that I haven’t yet mentioned: ‘Ribbed vaulting’ is groin vaulting with decorative ‘roll moulding’ enhancing the edges. ‘Compound piers’ are solid squarish piers with multiple engaged shafts attached around the perimeter. A ‘double bay’ is created when engaged floor to ceiling shafts alternate with piers or columns that have no floor to ceiling shafts. Note in Durham Cathedral the decorative treatment of the arches and columns.

It is a daunting task to describe the Romanesque ‘style’ as there is overwhelming variety; for every characteristic you can name you can find too many exceptions or different applications. It is perhaps better to say that there is a Romanesque ‘architectural vocabulary’ rather than a unified ‘style’.


Picture Sources: Fig.1 Pic. on Left:; Fig 2 Barrel Vault Illustration:, Groin Vault Illustration:, Pic. on Left:, Pic. on Right: interior view of aisle groin vaults, photo J. Howe, Boston College; Fig. 3, Left:, Right:; Fig. 4, Left:, Middle: Abtei Murbach by Alexander Anlicker. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons –, Right:  photo Tom Marshall 13th century; Fig. 5: Bernard Dick; Fig 6: “Early Medieval Architecture”, Roger Stalley, Page 124; Fig 7, Left: “Romanesque Architecture in France”, (NY, E.P. Dutton), Digital Archive, [Images from Julius Baum: “Romanesque Architecture in France”], Right:; Fig. 8, Left: Bernard Dick, Right:; Fig. 9, Left:; Right:, Right:; Fig. 10:; Fig. 11: Bernard Dick; Fig. 12, Left:, Right: “Early Medieval Architecture”, Roger Stalley, page 216.