Romanesque Piles: Those Old, Round Buildings

Before the pointy, stained-glass rich cathedrals and palaces of Europe came Romanesque. It tends to get overlooked because, well, it’s round and lumpy unless it is square and lumpy. You have the Glory that was Rome, and then everything is romantic (or Romantic) ruins until poof! Cathedral and the high Middle Ages and architecture gets cool and soaring again. Except that’s not quite how it works.

Romanesque is what the name sounds like – Roman-influenced. It developed between the 600s or so and the 1100s or later, and comes in different flavors depending on where in Europe you happen to be. England went its own way for a number of reasons, and in Hungary, all but part of one Romanesque structure disappeared during the Mongol invasions of the 1200s.

Romanesque tends to be squat, heavy, and round on the outside, and comparatively dim inside. The walls still bear most of the weight, although by the 900s into the 1000s pillars and columns begin appearing as partly load-carrying. The carvings are often “crude” compared to late Roman or high Gothic, but can be fascinating and show lots of regional variation.

You do not have to worry about this church floating into the air.

Sturdy. You can see a hint of the Gothic to come in the windows, but only a hint.

A basilica church with side aisles, but the outer walls bear the weight.

Romanesque (Carolingian as well) churches and other buildings are solid, sturdy, and look as if they are not going anywhere. I suspect the church above was remodeled in the early Gothic, possibly after a fire. It is hard to find a 100% pure Romanesque church because over the centuries, congregations upgraded, rebuilt, repaired, and “improved” old buildings. If you look at the image below, you will see that the builders alternate columns and square pillars. The pillars bear the weight, while the columns are more decorative. The ceiling is also flat, not vaulted or with arches.

Restored to Romanesque, the collegiate church in Quedlinburg.

If you look at true Romanesque capitols, they are often “primitive” and sometimes downright strange. The oldest church in Millstatt, Austria has some seriously strange carvings in the cloister and outside the doors from the cloister to the church. Cain and Abel, green men, a monster eating someone, and some suspiciously quasi-pagan-ish patterns. Millstatt had been a major pagan worship site, and the name comes from the thousands of pagan votives and idols supposedly found there when the Church arrived.

11 thoughts on “Romanesque Piles: Those Old, Round Buildings

    • ? I’m not certain what you mean, Luke. The popular, “guidebook and in museum” history gives the name origin as coming from lots and lots of pagan activities. That part of Austria was re-Christianized in the 600s after both the Arians (heretics of a sort) and then Slavic pagans moved into the region as Rome retreated in the 400s.

      I wish more of my pictures of the oddest of the odd carvings had come out, but the dark sky and dark backgrounds conspired against me. The images that came up in the net were either unimpressive or $$$$.

      • I interpreted it to mean “ooooh, SHINY, GIVE!!!

        Possibly because I’d just done the same with the file name of that “not floating away” church. ^.^

        • Probably. I had a 22 hour day yesterday, followed by two flights today, so my non-literal brain will (I hope) arrive via overnight express from wherever it seems to have wandered off to.

        • This, exactly.

          The intersection of historical mystery and myth is my favorite crossroads to be buried under.

          • Also, learning about blind spots in my knowledge base reduces the threat of being exposed as a pretender.

            Not that I’ve ever called myself an expert, and have objected when others have made the claim on my behalf.
            But I enjoy the topic, and hate looking ignorant.

  1. The Millstatt church may have been built by Irish monks, during the Whie Martyrdom. They went everywhere. The second element on the column looks like Celtic knotwork, and the top drawing looks like beasts from the illuminated Gospels.

  2. Much like Syrcusa, The Greeks amphitheater was torn up by the Romans to build a mini coliseum a hundred yards away, And the ‘castles’ were torn down to build the towns…

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