ROMANESQUE BURGUNDY

Introduced by Gerard Kilroy on 16 June 1997

The Romanesque style of architecture was introduced to Burgundy by Guillaume de Volpiano who came to Cluny in 987. He began the construction of the basilica of Saint-Benigne de Dijon in 1001 and the next year founded the Abbey of Bec in Normandy. From there Romanesque came to England at the Conquest and was known as Norman'.
Romanesque was the mason's architecture, combinations of triangular and circular shapes, simple, satisfying and firm. Its circular arches, however, created problems by producing outward thrust forces on the walls. The introduction of vaulted roofs concentrated the weight on to pillars which could be supported by buttresses.
Many of the Burgundian churches housed the bodies of saints and were places of pilgrimage. The saint was buried in the crypt and the plan of this part, designed to allow pilgrims to circulate around the shrine, determined the shape of the church above. The proportions of the church were based on musical intervals, probably to provide good acoustics so that voices could be heard all through the long, high building. The numbers of bays, apses etc have a symbolic meaning, five being a favoured number.
These shrines developed into monasteries to provide for the pilgrims and these monasteries became large and important. The Cistercians, from Citeaux, set up around a thousand subsidiary priories and monasteries over a large part of Europe and other orders the Benedictines, Cluniacs, etc followed their example.
St Bernard wrote of the importance of light and simplicity in churches to avoid distraction. The effect of light in dark Romanesque churches brings out the strength of the simple stone forms. The capitals of pillars, originally simple transitions from the round pillar to the square vaulting, were later freely carved with figures and foliage of great variety and humour on eternal themes, not always religious.
Gerard Kilroy's truly excellent slides and his enthusiasm for the subject made Burgundians of all those present.
John Coates.