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Dear visitor: Summer is here, and you may be thinking about a well-deserved vacation, family get-togethers, BBQs with neighborhood friends. More than likely, making a donation to Catholic Answers is not on your radar right now. But this is exactly the time we most need your help. The “summer slowdown” in donations is upon us, but the work of spreading the gospel and explaining and defending the Faith never takes a break. Your gift today will change lives and save souls for Christ this summer! The reward is eternal. Thank you and God bless.

Ecclesiastical Art

Detailed article on the developments of Christian art from the beginning down to the present day

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—Before speaking in detail of the developments of Christian art from the beginning down to the present day, it seems natural to say something in regard to the vexed question as to the source of its inspiration. It would not be possible here to treat adequately all the various theories which have been propounded, but the essentials of the controversy may be given in a few words. Afterwards there will be some mention of the principal works which Christian antiquity has left to us and a setting forth of the influence of the Catholic Church in stimulating and directing that artistic spirit which for so many centuries it alone was destined to keep alive.


—There has been much discussion of late years as to the influences which were predominant in the development of early Christian art. Professor Wickhoff in a striking essay (Roman Art, tr., 1900) has contended that in the first century after Christ a distinctively Roman style was evolved both in painting and sculpture, the salient features of which he characterizes as impressionist or “illusionist”. He marks several stages in the growth of this style, and claims for it especially the creation of what he calls the “continuous” method of composition, i.e. a method by which several successive stages of the same history are depicted together in a single painting. Further, he contends that this Roman style was adopted by the first Christian artists and that, though obscured and weakened, it pervaded the Roman world and maintained its identity throughout the Middle Ages, until eventually it quickened again into fuller life under the stimulus of the Renaissance. This view, an exaggeration of the Romanist hypothesis which long held the field, has been severely criticized by many competent authorities and notably by Strzygowski (“Orient oder Rom”, 1901, and “Kleinasien”, 1903), who attributes the predominant influence in the development of Christian art to the recrudescence of purely Oriental feeling. This, as he maintains, had always survived at Byzantium, Antioch, and Alexandria, and it became operative once more when the Graeco-Roman artistic tradition at Rome had exhausted itself after the effort of a few centuries. Though Strzygowski may go too far when he claims that even the art of the Romanized provinces like Gaul came from the East direct and not through Rome, it seems highly probable that his contention is in substance accurate enough. It is significant that Professor André Michel in the monumental “Histoire de l’Art” (1905-) distinctly lends his support to the theory that the Christian art of the Middle Ages was Byzantine rather than Roman in its origin. To Rome no doubt must be assigned the prevalence of the basilica type of church and the first effective conception of the possibilities of stone vaulting. But the transference of the seat of government by Honorius in 404 from Rome to Ravenna and the confusion that arose in the Western Roman Empire, had far-reaching consequences upon the development of art. If Rome was at all times the seat of the papacy, the vicars of Christ had not at this early date acquired any preponderating influence in the social and civil affairs of the Western world, while more than a hundred years after this, beginning with the seventh century, no less than thirteen pontiffs who occupied in succession the chair of St. Peter were of Greek or Syrian origin. But what is perhaps most important of all, the Latin stock who occupied what was once the great city, but what now became only a provincial town, were morally and intellectually effete. The motive power for a new development was to come from outside. The impetuous energy of the Teutonic tribes of the North was full of latent possibilities for the arts of peace, when that energy was once diverted from the strenuous occupations of a time of war. Once again “Graecia capta ferum victorem cepit”; but it was Greece enriched this time with the inheritance of Antioch, Ephesus, and Alexandria, while the culture that now travelled west and north found ultimately a more responsive soil than it had ever met with in Latium. In its adoption by Goths, Franks, and Saxons the art of Byzantium lost its rigidity, and something of its formalism. It was a living germ which soon developed an independent growth, and long before the Renaissance once more directed the minds of men to classic models, not only architecture and sculpture, but the arts of the painter, the iron-worker, the goldsmith, and the glass-founder were full of vigorous life and promise throughout all Western Europe.

The earliest specimens of decoration employed for a Christian purpose are found in the Roman catacombs. In the most ancient examples of all, the private chambers used for Christian interment in the first and second centuries, there is decoration indeed, but it is only in a negative sense that it can be called Christian art, for while the abundant frescoes seen in the cemetery of Domitilla and notably in the cubiculum of Ampliatus exclude such pagan elements as would be unseemly, the character of the painting is in every respect the counterpart of the ornamentation of the contemporary private houses buried at Pompeii. There is nothing distinctively Christian. Perhaps the frequent recurrence of the vine as a principal element in the scheme of decoration may have been meant to suggest the thought of Christ, the true vine, but even this is doubtful. Symbolism occurs early, but it can only be recognized with confidence in the more public cemeteries of the second century, e.g. that of St. Callistus; here, under the influence of the “Discipline of the Secret“, it is hardly wrong to recognize the true beginnings of a distinctively Christian art. No doubt this art in a most marked degree was imitative of the more decent forms of pagan decoration familiar at the period. It seems constantly to be forgotten by those who discuss this subject that it was the deliberate object of the early Christians, during the ages of suspicion and persecution, to exclude from their places of sepulture all that would by its conspicuousness or strangeness attract the notice of the casual pagan intruder. No wonder that the theme of the Good Shepherd is introduced again and again in the fresco decorations of the early catacombs. This is no indication, as rationalist critics have sometimes pretended, of the survival of an idolatrous mythology, but the very likeness of the beardless Good Shepherd to the type of the pagan Hermes Kriophorus—a likeness, however, which is never so exact as to lead to real confusion—constituted its recommendation to those who wished to hide their distinctive practices from the prying eyes of the people around them. In the same way the Orante, or praying figure, symbolical of the Church or the individual soul, bore a general resemblance to the statues of Pietas, familiar enough to the ordinary Roman citizen, while the dove, which was to the Christian eloquent of the grace of the Holy Spirit, would not have been distinguished by his pagan neighbor from the birds consecrated to Venus. The deeper mysteries of the Eucharist and of the other sacroments were still more artfully veiled in the frescoes of those early centuries. No doubt the fish was an object familiar enough in all kinds of pagan decoration, but that very fact rendered it most suitable for the purpose of the Christian when he wished to symbolize the marvellous workings of Christ (Iesous Christos Theou Huios Soter = IXTHUS, the fish) in the waters of baptism. What again was more common in decoration than some form of banqueting scene—a theme also often utilized by the worshippers of Mithra—but these feasts depicted upon the walls of a sepulchral chamber had a far other and deeper significance for the Christian, who by some minute sign, the little cross, it may be, impressed upon the loaves, or the fishes which decked the frugal board, was quick to discern the reference to the life-giving mystery of the Blessed Eucharist. There are also human figures and Biblical scenes, especially those connected with the liturgy for the departed—for example, the miraculous restorations of Jonah and Daniel and Lazarus—and in one or two isolated instances we may perhaps recognize a presentment of the Madonna; but the reference is always cryptic and only interpretable by the initiated. It was under these circumstances that the instinct of religious symbolism was developed when the art of the Church was yet in its infancy, but the tradition thus created has never departed from true religious art throughout the ages.

With the triumph of the Church under Constantine the necessity for the sedulous hiding of the mysteries of the Faith in large measure disappeared. From A.D. 313 to the end of the fifth century was a period of transformation and development in Christian art, and it may be conspicuously recognized upon the walls of the Roman catacombs. Biblical scenes abound, and the figure of Christ, no longer so frequently as the beardless Good Shepherd, but crowned with a nimbus and sitting or standing in the attitude of authority, is fearlessly introduced. The nimbus is also extended to others beside Christ, for example to Our Lady and some of the saints. Sculpture again, though in the catacombs the traces it has left are relatively few, now for the first time becomes the helpmate of painting in the service of the Church. This is the age of the great Christian sarcophagi so wonderfully decorated with the figures of Christ and His Apostles and with biblical scenes still full of symbolic meaning. The old ways of the period of persecution had, it is plain, become not only familiar but dear to the body of the faithful. The allegorical method of representing the mysteries of the Faith did not disappear at once. But though with the triumph of Constantine the outline of the “chrisme”, or the Greek monogram of Christ, was universally held in honor and introduced into all Christian monuments and even into the coinage, the crucifix as a Christian emblem was as yet practically unknown. For more than a century the memory of the Sacrifice of Calvary was recalled to the minds of the faithful only by some such device as that of a plain cross impressed with the figure of a lamb. The first representations of the figure of the Savior nailed upon the Rood, as we see it upon the carved doors of Sta Sabina in Rome and in the British Museum ivory, belong probably to the fifth century, but for a long period after that this subject is very rarely found, and its occurrence in frescoes or mosaics is hardly recorded anywhere before the time of Justinian (527-565).


—To find the beginning of the use of color in the Roman Empire to anything like an important extent, we must look at the Roman pavements composed of myriads of tesserae, and representing in a flat and somewhat uninteresting manner mystic beings, extraordinary animals, fruits, flowers, and designs. Between these Roman pavements and one branch of the earliest Christian art, that of mosaic, there is a very close connection. It seems also possible that some of the early efforts of the art of the Christian Church are to be found in the decorations of gold on glass which have been discovered in the catacombs. Upon these glasses, dating from the third to the fifth century, are found representations of Christ and of the Apostles, as well as drawings in gold-leaf, partly symbolic and partly realistic, referring to the miracles of Christ, the emblems of the Seven Spirits, a future life, and the events narrated in the New Testament. Simple and archaic as these are, yet many of them show considerable beauty. The primitive Church included within itself, not only the poor and humble, but persons of distinction, rank, and attainment, and it is clear from an examination of these drawings that some were executed by those who were in possession of considerable artistic skill, and who had been trained in a knowledge of Greek and Roman art. Contemporaneous with these, and earlier, are frescoes painted upon the walls of the catacombs, including portraits of the Apostles and of Christ, representations of the martyrs, naive pictures of the scenes from Holy Writ, and simple illuminatory symbolism. Then, between the fourth and tenth centuries, there is a long series of mosaics, in which for the first time strong evidence appears of a sense of color. A few specimens of these mosaics adorned the catacombs, afterwards they are found in the oratories and places of worship of the primitive Church. It was speedily recognized that mosaic decorations possessed certain strong claims to attention, such as other methods of decoration lacked. While the artist himself must be responsible for fresco work, very much of the labor in mosaic decoration could be left to persons of subordinate position, and once the artist had drawn out the pattern and scheme which was to cover, for instance, the apse of the church, the actual manual labor of fitting in the tesserae could be done by workmen. Then, again, there was the quality of imperishability; the mosaic was permanent, an actual part of the structure which it decorated; it did not vary in color by reason of light or atmosphere, and could be cleansed from time to time. It was also capable of strong, broad effects, rendering it peculiarly suitable to positions at the end of a building, somewhat above the line of sight, and its color could be made so emphatic and so brilliant that the darkest of curves or hollows could be lit up by its luminous beauty. It is small wonder, therefore, that from the very earliest period the Church drew to itself the skillful workers in mosaic, and employed them, as can be seen by the wonderful remains at Ravenna, in Sicily, on Mount Athos, near Constantinople, and notably at Rome, to decorate the interiors of the basilicas, and to portray upon their walls the emblems of the Divine tragedy, of the sufferings of Christ and of His saints, or to represent in hieratic magnificence the figures of Christ in glory, or in benediction, so that the scenes might be well in sight of all the worshippers within the little churches.

From the representation of single figures at the end of the church, the work speedily spread to more elaborate adornment of the walls, and from the simplicity of a single emblem, a single figure, the artistic spirit grew until it represented in pictorial effect the parables and miracles of Christ, or spread long triumphant processions of virgins, Apostles, martyrs, along the walls of the aisles and transepts of the larger churches. There is no city in Europe in which this earliest Christian art can be so well studied as at Ravenna. The difficulty of approaching the place in its out-of-the-way position has enabled it to retain and preserve the monuments in which it is so rich, and which relate so exclusively to its early history. The baptistery dates back to the last years of the fourth century, and was later ornamented in mosaic. There is in it a representation of the Baptism of Christ, and a circle of the Twelve Apostles; the figures, of surpassing dignity, appear to move round the dome with a swing and grace very remarkable in effect. Another circle of mosaic decorations in the same building represents the four Books of the Gospels open upon four altars, and between them four thrones of dominion with crosses; these mosaics have never been restored, and are in the condition in which their makers left them. The huge font intended for baptism by immersion, which stands below them, is proof of their antiquity, but the actual inscription of dedication with its date still exists on the metal cross surmounting the building. In the chapel of the archbishop in the archiepiscopal palace are mosaics of the fifth century made during the reign of Archbishop St. Peter Chrysologus, while in the tomb of the Empress Galla Placidia are mosaic decorations of her period; unfortunately, many of these latter works have been restored. The very finest mosaics in Ravenna, however, relate to the great heresy of Arianism. In the time of Theodoric, the old heresy was beginning once more to make itself felt. Arius had long been dead, Athanasius had fought his courageous battle against the Arian heresy, the Councils of Nicaea and Constantinople had been held, and had pronounced against it, and the Nicene doctrine had been confirmed, so that within the Church the heresy could no longer exist, but outside the Catholic Church there were still those who accepted it. When Theodoric, King of the Ostrogoths, came into power, Arianism became once more a force to be reckoned with, and the emperor erected a cathedral and a baptistery at Ravenna for his Arian bishops. It is in the church now called Sant’ Apollinare Nuovo, which was new more than a thousand years ago, that the great rhythmic array of saints and virgins alluded to above exists, the greater part of it as it was when Theodoric erected the church fourteen centuries ago. In the baptistery of the Arians, near by, the mosaics upon the roof were put in place practically after the baptistery became Catholic, and therefore date from about 550.

It is not only, however, in mosaics, that Ravenna illustrates the early art of the Church; one of its great treasures, the ivory chair of St. Maximianus (546-556), made in the first half of the sixth century, has been in the city since it was first carved, with the exception of a very short time when it was carried to Venice in 1001. It is perhaps the finest example in existence of such ivory carving, and was the work of Oriental craftsmen, who entered into the service of the Church and carved this chair with its delicate and beautiful illustrations of the miracles of Christ and the history of Joseph. The same city can illustrate other branches of applied art, for the orphreys and textile fabrics made for San Giovanni in the fifth century, the sixth-century altar-cross of the archbishop, St. Agnellus (556-569), his processional cross of silver, and portions of his cathedral chair, are still preserved in the cathedral, while the art of carving in marble of the same period is exceedingly well exemplified by the splendid stone sarcophagi existing in various churches of the city. Following the time of Theodoric came the rule of the Emperor Justinian (527-565), and the episcopate of St. Ecclesius (521-534), while the mosaic decoration in the church of San Vitale, done in the early and middle part of the sixth century, illustrate the change from Arian heresy to Catholic truth, and the exquisite beauty of the mosaic work the Church was able to make use of at that time. A little journey outside Ravenna to the church of Sant’ Apollinare in Classe will enable the student to bring his study of early mosaic work and early sculpture down to a still later period, as in that church there is the great mosaic erected by Archbishop Reparatus c. 671, the carved throne of St. Damianus (688-705), and the sarcophagi of various archbishops, extending in date to the end of the seventh century, and bearing religious emblems of very considerable importance. Attention should also be drawn to the pictures on unprepared linen cloth, executed in a material similar to transparent water-color, ascribed to a period antecedent to the third century. They chiefly purport to be representations of the features of Christ. The most notable of course is the one known as the Handkerchief of St. Veronica, preserved in the Vatican, and which none but an ecclesiastic of very high rank is allowed to examine closely. Although the most important, it is by no means the only example of such a picture. There is another in Genoa, a third in the church of San Silvestro in Rome, and others in various European shrines. The metal work executed during the Ostrogothic occupation of Italy was often work commissioned by the Church for use in the ceremonials of the service, and figures of Christ and of the saints, ornaments for copes, chasses in which to put relics, and vessels for use at the altar, belonging to this period of primitive art, are the direct result of the teaching of the Church. As, however, the religious feeling spread more and more, the desire arose among Christians to have artistic representations of the great events of the Faith in their houses, and it is possible that the beginnings of what we may term portable pictorial work arose in this way. The very early tempera paintings on wood of Eastern and Byzantine character, some of which are actually ascribed to the hand of the Apostle St. Luke himself, may very likely have been executed, not entirely as decorations for the Church, but that the wealthier members of the community, at least, might have in their homes, in the privacy of their own oratories, some cherished representation of the Man of Sorrows Himself, or of some Apostle or saint from whom the owner was named, or towards whom he had some particular affection. In this way may perhaps be traced the beginning of the history of the icons, which are so important a feature in the life of the Eastern Church, and which adorn every house, in many cases being found in all the rooms occupied by the various members of the family.


—Leaving primitive times, the period of the Middle Ages is one of enormous artistic importance, and it is an era in which the influence of the Church is practically paramount. To this period there does not belong any very long series of artistic objects relating exclusively to domestic life. There were, of course, articles of domestic interest marked by artistic skill, there were objects of personal decoration, and appliances for use in the home; but the choicest talent and the efforts of the most supreme genius were almost invariably given to the work of the Church, and even where the commissions related to domestic ornamentation, there was generally a religious element in the decorations and the use of religious symbolisms. To this period belong the magnificent works in enamels, executed for church work. There are the tall pricket candlesticks, superb chasses and reliquaries, altar-crosses, crosiers, shrines, censers and incense boats, crucifixes, morses for copes, and medallions for sacred vessels, triptychs and polyptychs for use on the altar, plaques for book-covers, especially for the adornment of the Book of the Gospels, cruets, basins, chalices, and book-binding in metal encrusted with jewels. The very first British enamels were merely a kind of coarse decoration, applied to the adornment of shields and helmets, but later on to cups, vases, and drinking-vessels, but, when mention is made of the Ardagh Chalice and the Alfred Jewel, it will be realized that a period in enamel work has been reached when the Church laid its hand upon the craft. Concerning the use of the Alfred Jewel, it may be broadly stated that the most probable theory is that it was the ornament applied to the head of an ivory pointer used by the deacon when reading the Book of the Gospels, and that therefore this exquisite object now in the Ashmolean Museum at Oxford is one of the earliest examples of ecclesiastical enamel work. The Ardagh Chalice, of translucent enamels on silver and gold, is only one of a group of Irish shrines, reliquaries, missal-covers, crosiers, and crosses, similarly decorated, and it would appear likely that these Irish or Celtic enamels, of which half a dozen adorn the altar of Sant’ Ambrogio in Milan, are perhaps among the earliest existing examples of the art in connection with ecclesiastical possessions. In the first part of the eleventh century, Byzantium appears to have been the headquarters of the work of ecclesiastical enamelling, and the pectoral cross in the South Kensington Museum may be taken as an example of early Byzantine work. The art of the enameller was also in existence in Germany at an early date, and here also was applied exclusively to ecclesiastical objects. Towards the middle of the twelfth century the workers of Limoges came into prominence, and from that time down to the end of the thirteenth Limoges was the center of production. In Italian enamelling, the wonderful translucent reliquary, dated 1338, the work of Ugolino of Siena, in which is preserved the great relic of the Holy Corporal at Orvieto, is a masterpiece of the craft. The altar-frontal at Pistoja belongs to about the same period, and a little later comes the reliquary made by the brothers Arezzo, while during the whole of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries the enamellers were kept hard at work in Italy producing objects intended for Church work in two or three distinct processes, either that called champlevé, or another method, that of floating transparent enamels, known by the name of bassetaille, or still another process called encrusting. At the end of the fifteenth century, and the beginning of the sixteenth, in the era of the Renaissance, the art left Italy, and, taking a new form, that of painted enamels, or more strictly, painting in enamels, had a recrudescence in France, in the very same place, Limoges, in which the old enamels had been produced.

In another division of applied arts are the remarkable embroideries which adorned all the sacred vestments, representing, in the most wonderful pictorial effect, groups of saints, sacred scenes, and religious symbols. On the chasubles, copes, albs, stoles, maniples, burses, veils, mitres, frontals, super-frontals, and altar-covers, palls, bags, and panels of that period, are to be seen triumphs of artistic excellence, worked with exceeding beauty, and with a glorious richness of color, by the hands of the faithful women of the day and designed by the men of supreme genius whom the Church had attracted to her side. Some of the very finest of this embroidery work was English, and references are found to the dignity of English embroidery before the end of the seventh century, as, St. Aldhelm, Bishop of Sherborne, celebrated in verse the skillful work of the Anglo-Saxon embroideresses. Indeed, at one time, rather too much attention in the convents for women seems to have been given to this fascinating needlework, for a council held in 747 recommended that the reading of books and psalm-singing by the nuns should receive greater attention, and that not quite so many hours should be spent in needlework. As early as 855, the Anglo-Saxon King Ethelwulf when journeying to Rome took with him as presents silken vestments richly embroidered in gold, executed in his own country, and there are fragments of a stole and maniple, found in the tomb of St. Cuthbert (d. 687), which were produced under the auspices of the wife of Edward the Elder in 916 and placed in the saint’s coffin. From that time down to the middle of the sixteenth century there was a constant demand for the work of the skilled embroideresses, and this section of art, so particularly suitable to ecclesiastical purposes, was one of perennial richness. It is well that some stress should be laid upon the question of embroidery, inasmuch as in the Middle Ages it was almost exclusively a branch of ecclesiastical art, and nearly everything that can be termed of importance in fine embroidery, especially in fine English embroidery previous to the fifteenth century, was executed for the Church. Enormous labor was given to the production of these beautiful vestments, and as an example it may be mentioned that a frontal presented to the Abbey of Westminster in 1271 took the whole labor of four women for three years and three-quarters. Lincoln Cathedral in the fourteenth century possessed over six hundred vestments in its sacristy, while the Abbey of Westminster had very nearly double as many, and even the English churches were far behind those of Spain in the sumptuous manner in which they were supplied with vestments. There was therefore every possible necessity for the work, and no branch of art has a greater importance between the twelfth and the fifteenth centuries than has this one of embroidery. Fortunately, a sufficient number of the old vestments have come down to the present day to give a satisfactory idea of their importance and beauty, and the records and inventories of church goods prior to the sixteenth century afford still further information concerning this branch of art. The spirit of devotion which has ever given the instinct to decorate the house of God with the very finest works of which man is capable led to this lavish display of artistic genius in the service of the Catholic Church, but it must also be borne in mind that there were other, subordinate causes to account for the work. The Church, following its Divine Master, has always inculcated the importance of good works, and it has ever encouraged the faithful to give to its service of their best. If their skill was in metal-work, in embroidery, in carving wooden figures or wonderful choir-stalls, in stained glass, in jewelry, in fresco or in mosaic, such skill was to be devoted to God‘s service, as the choicest gift the artist had to lay upon the altar, symbolic of his devotion to his faith. Even beyond that, there came the occasions in which the penance for sin took the form of the devotion of artistic gifts to the work of the Church, and the other and very numerous cases in which this artistic labor was the constant employment of those persons who had devoted their entire life to the religious career, in the various monastic houses belonging to the different orders. One further cause must not be overlooked, the fact that it was the Crown, the clergy, and the nobility who alone could command, by reason of their means, the splendid productions of the men of genius of the time, and that while the commissions given by the clergy would most certainly be for church purposes almost exclusively, those given by the Crown and the higher nobility were in almost all instances for exactly the same purposes, and this for a double reason. First, the desire to render the home beautiful had not yet arisen to any considerable extent, and secondly, there was every wish to make the private chapel or oratory, the public church or royal sanctuary, as beautiful as possible, both to carry out the instincts of the religious feeling and please those who held control of spiritual things, as well as to heap up a reward for good deeds which would have a corresponding equivalent in the future life and might serve as retribution for the deeds of violence that formed so integral a part of the life of these centuries.

The period under consideration was not so much one of portable pictures as of applied art, devoted to the interior decoration of the sacred buildings, and to every object having connection with the service of the altar. One section of ecclesiastical art deserving special mention concerns almost exclusively the monastic orders, namely, that of illumination and transcription. All over Europe the monks of the pre-Renaissance time were engaged in preparing the books of the day, and these books were almost exclusively religious ones. The number of those concerning domestic matters, agriculture, or the classics, transcribed by these diligent students, is relatively small, but the series of religious works from their diligent pens is an exceedingly long one. Their time was fully occupied in preparing manuscripts for use within the cloisters and for the service of the altar, as well as for the great patrons of the monasteries who desired to have books of devotion for their own use, or for gifts to other sovereigns or noblemen. These manuscripts are of incomparable beauty, being transcribed with extraordinary skill upon the finest of vellum, and adorned with initial letters, calendars, and illustrations, that are triumphs of artistic skill, and marvels of ingenuity. The Books of Hours, Missals, Breviaries, and Psalters having their origin in the monastic houses of England, France, Germany, and Italy during the Middle Ages are now among the greatest artistic treasures of the world, and with regard to them there is one very striking fact which must never be overlooked. This does not relate exclusively to books of devotion, it belongs nearly as much to every work of art produced during this period, and it is the fact that these triumphs of skill are for the most part anonymous. In the period hardly any great names are recorded in connection with such work. There is a wonderful series of artistic treasures, but signatures scarcely ever exist. Here and there the name of an enameller is known, or perchance the name of the place where he worked, occasionally the name of a wood-carver or a worker in stained glass has been preserved and there are just a few cases in which the name of the zealous monk who toiled over the manuscript is known, but the instances are exceedingly few, and they occur, one might say, by accident rather than by intention. With respect to illuminations in books of devotion, one monk took up the task where the other had left it. Death caused no cessation of the self-imposed labor. The orders could never die, and as in the present day great literary works are undertaken by the leading orders, in the full knowledge that to carry them out will extend far beyond the life of the writer who begins the undertaking, but that his successor will be equally able to continue the task, so in the earlier days the monks labored in their cloisters, each at his own work; each generation of monks in the footsteps of the former, hiding the individual identity in the name of the order and content, as the work was done for the greater glory of God, that while the work should remain, the monks themselves should be forgotten. Few things are more striking in considering this period than the singleness of aim and devotion to duty which characterized these artists and led them to have no desire to perpetuate their own names, but simply to carry out to the best of their ability the allotted task for the glory of God and His Church. Partly, of course, the reason was that the dignity of personal labor was not fully realized, but the reason for this anonymity lies mainly in the facts already stated, that the work was religious work, that the aim was a religious aim, and that the identity of the person did not matter, so long as the Church was properly served by her faithful. There is one other aspect of the artistic work of the pre-Renaissance time to be alluded to. It is by no means confined to the pre-Renaissance period, but extends through the succeeding centuries, and it should extend to all the artistic labor of the present day, but it is more especially a feature of the period under discussion. It is that determination which is never satisfied with the work which has been done, but which is always straining forward for finer and better work. It is that element of untiring energy and ever-quickening desire for perfection which has always characterized the greatest art-workers of the world, and it finds its earliest and perhaps its strongest development in this period.

The early Italian painters fall into two groups: the first, that which may be called the group of the miniaturists or illuminators, as, for example, Enrico, Berlinghieri, and Oderico; the second, the very primitive painters, such as Margaritone, Spinello, Uccello, Cimabue, Duccio, Memmi, Lorenzetti, and the various early masters of the schools of Siena, Padua, and Verona. The predecessors of these artists, for the most part, worked without any reference to nature, under Byzantine influence, copying slavishly the methods fixed by the Greek Church. Their pictures, whether they illustrated scenes from the Sacred Writings, the legends of the Church, or the lives of the saints, were designed and painted according to fixed rules. Their work was inferior to that of the Byzantine workers in mosaic, but followed the same conceptions of art; in every way, in attitudes, compositions, types of face, folds of drapery, and even as regards color, it was guided by the definite rules of tradition, so that the painter was little more than a mechanic. Still, despite what may be termed the ugliness of this particular school, there was a strong spirit of devotion exercising the minds of the artists, and they were able to put a certain amount of sympathy into their hard, angular productions, thus showing that their works were painted with religious sentiment, and with a desire to evoke that sentiment in others. Margaritone was one of the first to break through the hard crust of rules, and although his work does not show any very striking advance upon that of his predecessors, yet in his pictures and in those of the earliest painters of Siena, we begin to find the desire to paint a Mother of God bearing some living semblance to a Mother of Man. There is a struggling towards tenderness and sweetness of countenance, a desire to represent raiment gently floating in easy curves, and a greater command of sentiment, together with a simplicity in storytelling, which mark this primitive school, and prepare the way for the forerunner of natural treatment, Giotto himself.


—The great era of transition from the Middle Ages to modern times which is called the Renaissance may be divided into the three periods of the Early Renaissance, Full Renaissance, and Late Renaissance. Here again the influence of the Church is found just as strong and as definite as in the past. The growing desire to have magnificent churches created the necessity for other workers in art. The first years of this period give in Italy the earliest workers known by name in fresco, and in portable pictures, Cimabue, Orcagna, Giotto, and others. In their “frescoed theology”, decorating the churches of Assisi, Siena, Pisa, and other parts of Italy, is seen the beginning of the long list of painters whom the Church enlisted in her service. In bronze work Ghiberti produced the gates of the Baptistery of Florence, and with the appearance of Brunelleschi a new school of architecture for ecclesiastical buildings arose. In this period belongs also the introduction of printing, and here again, just as emphatically, the Church took the lead. The earliest printers were churchmen, belonging to a religious order, the earliest books those of religion—the first actual printed sheet being the Indulgence of Pope Nicholas V—followed by a long list of religious and liturgical works, Sacred Scriptures, and patristic literature. In the Low Countries the Van Eycks developed the methods of oil-painting and there arose a great school of artists, among whom were Van der Goes, Van der Weyden, Bouts, Cristus, Memling, and others, who formed the transition from the Gothic school. Their most important works were altar-pieces, and in some cases all their paintings were of a religious character, while in others the paintings not religious were portraits of the various patrons who had commissioned the altar-pieces, or who had had their own private chapels decorated by these artists; therefore the intimate connection between art and the Church was just as close as ever.

Towards the close of the Early Renaissance period is found the work in sculpture of Donatello and those of his school, Desiderio da Settignano, the Rossellini, Duccio, Verrochio, and Mino da Fiesole; almost all the fine work of these men was for ecclesiastical purposes. Here and there are single detached statues, as for example the one of St. George by Donatello, but then it must be remembered that these were figures of saints, and intended for buildings more or less of a religious character, or for those erected by guilds distinctly religious, while some of the sculptors named, as for example Duccio of Perugia, were only known by the work they executed for the decoration of churches. During this period among the workers in Germany were Adam Kraft, Veit Stoss, and the Vischers, who are associated with the superb tabernacle, the series of Stations of the Cross and the great bronze shrine in Nuremberg, all objects intimately connected with religious work. In England, the tomb of Henry V, and that of Henry VII by Torrigiano, both at Westminster, must not be overlooked. Every branch of artistic craftsmanship was at this time employed for the benefit of the Church. Finiguerra, Ghiberti, and others were at work at the great silver altar of the Florentine baptistery. The jewellers, Ghirlandajo. Verrochio, and Francia were making jewels for altar vestments, medals for the great ecclesiastics, and pictures for the churches, Luca della Robbia was preparing his vitrified enamel medallions, that he might present the Blessed Virgin and her Child in attitudes of the most perfect tenderness on the exteriors of the churches, and on the corners of the streets, while other potters were marking the sacred emblems on their finest productions, or painting religious scenes upon their vases and majolica plates. The Arras tapestries of France, the English tapestries of Coventry, and the Van Eyck tapestries of Flanders, were being woven for the hangings of the churches, while Benedetto da Maiano was bringing his intarsia work to perfection that he might apply it to the decoration of the choir-stalls in the great churches of Italy. It was at this time that the great monastic painter Fra Angelico decorated the cells of San Marco with his perfect representations of the great events in the Divine Tragedy, while Gozzoli, Lippi, and Ghirlandajo adorned the churches, and Perugino, Pinturicchio, Francia, Albertinelli, and Fra Bartolomeo, almost exclusively religious painters, prepared those masterpieces of religious art to set upon the altars of the private chapels and great churches of the day, that are now among the treasured masterpieces of all time.

This era was also the period of Humanism, of the return to the love of the classics. It may be difficult in this complex period to mark the boundary line between religion and that strange paganism which was an emblem of the classical revival, but the Certosa of Pavia and the work of the early German painters, represented by such men as Schongauer and the elder Holbein, mark that side by side with the Humanistic movement there was a strong religious one. In this religious movement art had its full share, and engaged in its tasks, not perhaps with the austere simplicity and singleness of aim which belonged to an earlier period, but still with a definite determination that the best products of artistic craftsmanship should be devoted to the service of God. There was, however, a growing desire that the home should be more beautiful and more luxurious. The decoration of churches was ceasing to be the sole aim of the art-worker, and he was finding other fields, but the chief encouragement of art still came from the Church and for the Church, and even upon domestic work the Church set her hand and seal. The period of the Full Renaissance may be taken as lasting from 1450 to 1550, and here must be noticed the advent of a new movement in art, or at least a stronger development of what had undoubtedly begun to arise in the previous century. Hitherto, in pictorial art, notably in that of Italy, the aims had been form, drawing, composition, devotion, and the expression of spiritual conceptions rather than color; but in the Venetian School, that took its rise in the earlier century with the first Bellini, Carpaccio, and Crivelli, and that was to see its development at this time in the later Bellini, Giorgione, Titian, Paolo Veronese, and Tintoretto, the claims of color gain a supremacy over the kindred branches of pictorial art. The Venetian School is the one in which brilliant color attains to its apotheosis, and everything else is subservient to it. The simplicity of aim which characterized such a man as Fra Angelico passed away, the devotional feeling that marked the works of Albertinelli and Fra Bartolomeo gave place to an overpowering desire for decoration as such, and in Venice, although the Church commissioned the great altar-pieces and the schemes of interior ornamentation for which these noble artists were responsible, it had to be content to accept Venetian tradition and to see religious scenes treated as gorgeous pieces of sumptuously colored decoration. Although there might not be the simplicity of a past generation, yet there still existed in the artists the same desire to offer to the Church the greatest works of their genius. In this period of the Full Renaissance are found the work of Raphael and of Michelangelo; of Clouet, Mabuse, and Scorel; of Dürer, Holbein, and Cranach; of Leonardo da Vinci, and of Correggio, while in applied arts there was immense industry and great development. The German metal-workers and goldsmiths prepared church vessels innumerable; Cellini and Caradosso produced ornaments for church vestments; the screen and the woodwork for King’s College Chapel, Cambridge, typified the ecclesiastical wood-carving of the time in England; while the stained-glass windows at King’s College Chapel, in other chapels, and in great churches show what was attained in this branch of ecclesiastical art.

The fall of Florence marked the close of the period of great art in that city, while the paintings and tapestry executed for Francis I at Fontainebleau, for Louis XII at Tours, and some sculpture done by Michelangelo for the Medici Chapel, all point out the enhanced power of the Humanistic movement and the destruction of that devotion to faith which had been so marked a feature of the earlier centuries. The epoch of the Late Renaissance, extending from 1500 to 1600, and overlapping that of the Full Renaissance, was still, however, distinguished by a considerable amount of earnest religious fervor in art. The paintings of Luini, Gaudenzio Ferrari, Andrea del Sarto, Sodoma, Bronzino, and Peruzzi, are strongly religious, full of right feeling, and almost exclusively done for churches, religious houses, guild chapels, and private oratories, but outside of Italy the connection between the Church and art is by no means so apparent. Spanish supremacy in Northern Europe had been destroyed, and 1576 was marked by the rapid decline of Spain. The Iberian goldsmiths and iron-workers still certainly produced their famous grilles, jewels, morses, chalices, and crucifixes, while in needlework the finest workers of Castile were elaborating some of the most perfect examples of church vestments that have ever been produced. In bronze, the smiths of Aragon were casting superb church candelabra, and some of the weavers in France and England were producing tapestry decoration for churches; but the greater part of the Gobelin, Brussels, and Mortlake tapestry-weaving was for domestic use, the greatest architects were working on domestic architecture, the potters on domestic pottery, and the printers and engravers upon work which cannot be termed religious. The names of certain men stand out, however, as representing persons of deep personal religion, who brought their own devotion to duty to bear upon the work they executed. Such men were Giulio Romano, Palladio, and the Behaims, but the period of that supreme hold which the Church had retained upon the art of the world, which she had initiated, developed, and encouraged, was passing away, never more to appear in its full fruition. Some reference should be made to the system under which during this time many of the great decorative schemes of Italian painting were executed. The encouragement which the Church gave to the Italian painters took various forms. It was permissible for an influential or a wealthy family to have allotted to it a small chapel in the large parish or town church, and the decoration of the chapel was left to the care of the family whose name it received. In some cases, these chapels were built onto the church, and in such instances an architect, a builder, a decorator, and an artist were all employed, and the Church gladly gave permission for such additions to the church structure, in order that the family might have a meeting-place and an opportunity to make an endowment for perpetual Masses for its deceased members. In cases where a new structure was not erected, a portion of the existing church was enclosed as a private chapel, perhaps in memory of a father, a mother, or some children, and a painter of repute was called in to devise a scheme of decoration for its walls, in which would be introduced the figures of saints to whom the deceased persons had been dedicated, or scenes from the lives of such saints; in many cases life-size figures of the saints were represented with their hands upon the kneeling figures of the donors of the chapel. There was no thought of an anachronism; it was considered perfectly right that representations of persons who had died but a few weeks or months before should be introduced into the scenes in which the saints of early church history were depicted. It then became the ambition of later members to add to the beauty of the family chapel as means allowed. The walls having been decorated, an altar-piece would be painted by another artist, while perhaps, following him, yet a third would ornament the front of the altar, or craftsmen would be called in to supply objects used in the sacred service, or vestments and books for the priests. In this way these little chapels became shrines for artistic work, the productions of many hands, representing the desires of many persons to place the best of work at the service of the Church, to act dutifully towards the family itself, and to make a suitable offering in recompense for crimes committed. Another course sometimes adopted was to call in two painters, rivals in their profession, to decorate different walls of a church, or the two sides of an altar-piece, or again, when some great addition was made to the fabric, on account of an important event, such as the canonization of a local saint, or a marked interposition of Providence on behalf of the town, different influential persons in the place would undertake to be responsible for portions of the building, each calling in his own favorite painter, and in this way the work would be completed. Or it might be that an order desired to decorate a church dedicated to its patron saint, and the commission would be given to some notable artist, who perhaps was unable to complete the task, or who died before its completion. In such cases, others were called in to complete it, and in this way the fabric was beautified by various successive hands.

The number of definitely personal commissions which the sixteenth-century artist had was small, as even in the instances where a patron ordered a picture, it was generally an altar-piece for the family chapel, or else the decoration of some building belonging to the trade guild to which he was attached, and this trade guild being nearly always a religious association, the commission came under the category of religious work. It is all this which marks the great distinction between art and craftsmanship previous to the sixteenth century and after it. In the period from the triumph of Christianity to about 1260 in Italy, and about 1460 in Northern Europe, the dominant art is architecture, chiefly employed in the service of the Church, and the arts of painting and carving were only applied subordinately for its enrichment. During the Renaissance period the imitative arts, sculpture, painting, and the various art-crafts began to develop and detach themselves, to exist and strive after perfection on their own account, and while architecture still held an important position, it was no longer dominant; the arts which supplied the interior decoration of the building, and the objects needed in the service of the Church, ceased to be considered as subordinate, but were taking each its own high position under the guidance of workers of supreme genius. From the period, however, of the Full Renaissance, the great dignity of architecture begins to diminish, especially as regards ecclesiastical buildings, and architects devoted themselves almost exclusively to domestic and civic work. Architecture ceased to be personal, democratic, local, and became professional and more or less uniform throughout the whole of Europe, while it suffered severely because the designing of detail became in many cases the work of others than the executant workmen. The same sort of difficulty was befalling the pictorial art and the arts of the craftsmen. The personal element was no longer the main strength of an art. The ecclesiastical side of the work was almost non-existent, and the crafts suffered by reason of the fact that the commercial element had entered into art, and the adornment of the house, the palace, and the person was considered of far greater importance than the adornment of the church, and the sacrifice of the life of the worker for the greater glory of God.


—There are certain political explanations of this great change between the art of the sixteenth and the art of the seventeenth century. There were several forces at work which were hostile or indifferent to artistic development, such as the religious, dynastic, and commercial wars, the difficulties of the Reformation, and constitutional problems, while the grouping together of small towns into larger provinces and countries was doing away with the rivalry of the craftsmen in the smaller places, and permitting a spirit of greater uniformity in style to spread throughout a large section of Europe. Add to all these colonial expansion, huge enterprise, and great commercial prosperity, constantly broken into by ravaging wars, and the causes for the decay of that spirit of religious activity in art characterizing earlier periods are apparent. Spain and Italy were, in the seventeenth century, almost the only two countries in which any close connection between art and the Church was kept up. England was troubled with the religious question, and struggling with great constitutional problems, while it had given itself over to the faith of the Reformers, and such art as it was producing was the great architectural triumph of Sir Christopher Wren in the rebuilding of the churches of London, and the various sections of craftsmanship concerned with the adornment of the house and the person. In Spain there were still some great goldsmiths at work, and some even greater workers in wrought iron, preparing the rejas for the Spanish cathedrals, while pictorial art was at its very highest in that country, and its masterpieces, with the exception of those of the very greatest artist of all, Velazquez, were devoted to subjects suggested by the Church. Yet there had been no country in which the painter had been so trammelled by traditional restrictions as in Spain. The very manner in which each saint was to be represented, the method in which his or her clothing was to be painted, and the coloring which was to be applied to each garment, had been a matter of stern decree, it had needed the profound genius of a Velazquez to break through the traditional rules, and to open for his successors, and especially for Murillo, a period of greater freedom. Commencing with such painters as Pantoja della Cruz and Vicente Carducci, the great Spanish School had produced the Ribaltas and Ribera, and then the majestic Velazquez. In Spain the only great painter to follow Velazquez was Murillo, but there were many whose works were marked by distinction, excellence, and beauty, especially Zurbaran, Iriarte, Juan de Valdes, Alonso Cano, and Orrente. The seventeenth century was, in various countries of Europe, one of the important periods of artistic production, and although the Italian schools, the Realists, and the painters of the Second Revival were men whose productions at the present time are out of favor, yet they deserve more than a passing notice, while contemporary with them there are others who rank among the veritable giants of the artistic craft. The late Italian artists, the Carracci, Caravaggio, Sasso Ferrato, Carlo Dolci, Domenichino, Luca Giordano, Carlo Maratta, Guido Reni, Salvator Rosa, and others, show in their work melodramatic style, love of magnificent coloring, and intense shades. The draughtsmanship of these artists should cause their works to be more highly esteemed than they are at present, for they certainly represent an important epoch in the art history of the world, and one which must never be overlooked. Many of their works were altar-pieces painted for churches, or were intended for church decoration, but at the same time they were greatly influenced by the Humanistic movement, and by the eager desire to represent the stories of classical writers in pictorial effect. The commercial prosperity of Holland, at a time when other nations were lacking in material wealth, was one of the reasons for the existence of a veritable crowd of artists just at this time. The Church had ceased to commission pictures in Holland, and very seldom were stories, either from Holy Writ, or from the lives of the saints, represented by this school of artists.

In dealing with the arts and crafts of the eighteenth century, a new and destructive factor which had arisen must be taken into consideration. “The genius of handicraft”, as has been well said, “passes now into invention”, and the commencement of a system now appears that was eventually to strike at the very roots of the manner in which supreme works of genius had been produced in the preceding centuries. It must also be noticed that, in painting especially, the artistic center of gravity had shifted from Italy to England, and to a lesser extent to France, and that Italy, Germany, Spain, and the Netherlands took but a very small share in the artistic development of the eighteenth century, instead of, as in preceding periods, being the great centers of development themselves. The triumph of the home, however, in contradistinction to that of the Church, was now complete, and portraiture, whether concerning itself with the great decorative single figures or family groups of Reynolds and Gainsborough, or with the productions of the leading miniature painters, Cosway, Engleheart, Plimer, Smart, Hone, Wood, and their numerous followers, was exclusively applied to the multiplication of portraits of those persons who were able to afford to employ the artist, and who desired to possess and distribute to others such delightful representations as would adorn the home and the person. Ecclesiastical art, or art for the decoration of the church, had hardly any existence.

In England towards the middle of the nineteenth century a new movement having in it some of the instincts of earlier Italian art began to arise. The foremost artist of this new school was Sir Edward Burne-Jones. In the wonderful succession of poetic visions which he presented, marked by a play of fancy, a fertility of inventiveness, tender witchery of inspiration, exquisite color, and grace and harmony of line and grouping, he was able to develop the spirit of religious emotion to a far fuller extent than he himself had intended, and to vivify the old legends of primitive times which had formed part of his inheritance from Celtic ancestors. His appearance on the horizon of art was to a great extent coincident with the blossoming forth of what has been termed the Oxford Movement in religion, a growing desire for a deeper and fuller devotion, an eager determination to return to earlier and purer lines of thought in religion, to set faith free from the regulations of statecraft, and to rise from the dreary monotony of a Genevan theology to something approaching closer to the fiery enthusiasm and the sumptuous ceremonial of the passionate faith of earlier days. The progress of this movement within the Protestant Church led to a considerable number of accessions to the Catholic Faith, but in the Church of its origin it worked a complete revolution. Once more there arose the determination that the house of God should be beautiful, and once again art, with all the various crafts closely connected therewith, entered into the service of religion, very much in the manner they had done in preceding centuries. Tapestry-workers, under the influence of William Morris and Burne-Jones, were set to work to prepare panels of glowing color for the decoration of churches. The stained-glass painters, under the influence of these craftsmen, sought out old designs, originated new schemes of color, and worked hard to discover old secrets of technic. The earlier schools of embroidery were studied, and all over the country women set to work to make vestments and to execute needlework of rare distinction and great beauty. A revival took place in the art of the metal-worker and in that of the stone-mason. Many fine wrought-iron grilles were made, and the claim of the artist to prepare the design and to superintend the carrying out of its execution was once more considered and gladly entertained. Quite apart from the religious aspect of the movement, there was in this Oxford revival the origin of the effort towards greater refinement, greater beauty, and more attention to handicraft, which, commencing in the middle of the nineteenth century, has by no means reached its culmination in the early years of the twentieth.

One of the first and most important of the movements which aimed to break away from the artistic traditions of the eighteenth century took place in the early part of the nineteenth century in Germany, and was led by Overbeck. The Academy of Vienna, at the time that he entered it, was under the direction of Füger, a talented miniature painter, but a follower of the pseudo-classical school of David, and a firm believer in the tenets of these opinions, too conservative to vary from them in the least degree. Overbeck felt that he was among commonplace painters, that every noble thought was suppressed within the academy, and that Christian art had been diverted and corrupted until nothing Christian remained in it. The differences between him and his followers and their fellow-students were so serious that the upholders of Overbeck and their leader were expelled from the academy; leaving Vienna, Overbeck journeyed to Rome, reaching it in 1810, and remaining there for fifty-nine years. Here he was joined by such men as Veit, Cornelius, Schadow, with others of less importance; together they formed a school which was known as the Nazarites, or the Church-Romantic painters. They built up a severe revival on simple nature and the serious art of the Umbrian and Bolognese painters, and although for a long time they labored under great difficulties, yet, after a while, they were able to exert considerable influence, and their success led to memorable revivals throughout Europe. Overbeck was a Catholic, as were several of his friends. He was a man of high purity of motive, of deep insight, and abounding knowledge, a very saintly person, and a perfect treasury of art and poetry, insomuch that his influence helped very largely to purify the art of his time. The secessions from the conservative line adopted by the Royal Academy in England late in the nineteenth century were not marked by the particular element of religious fervor distinguishing Overbeck, but were the result of a similar determination to return to nature, and understand the art of painting in the open air, with not only a strict adherence to realism in choice and treatment of subject, but also the subordination of color to tone gradation. These secessions in England were, however, very much the result of the movement in France which had preceded them, and which was connected with the name of Millet.

In Catholic countries there are arising some signs that the old practice of enlisting the services of art for the purposes of religion may be developed, but the signals of an approaching movement are not very strong as yet, and the Church has a good deal to learn with regard to decoration, to design, and to craftsmanship from the earlier periods of its history. Foremost among the signs of the new spirit must be placed the erection of the Westminster Cathedral at London, one of the most perfect buildings in England, erected after the truest and most careful study of the past and with every desire to give full play to the spirit of the present and to the original talent of its designer, while avoiding anything that could be called a slavish copying of the past. This building affords an example of the revived use of mosaic properly applied, in method following the work of Ravenna, and planned by a great artist, Bentley. It affords the most perfect scheme of interior decoration that could well be conceived. In other countries of Europe the signs of progress are not quite so clear, but the Church which has fostered and encouraged art from its very birth has so many glorious examples in its midst of the great achievements of profound genius that it can only be a matter of time before its ancient use of the fine arts is revived. A close study of the past would enable the Church to once more set about the task of employing the craftsmen of the world to produce their finest work in the domain of ecclesiastical art.

Illustrations explanatory of the different branches of ecclesiastical art will be found under the special articles: Ivories; Illumination of Manuscripts; Metal; Religious Painting; Reliquaries; Sculpture; Wood-Carving.



The best definition of architecture that has ever been given is likewise the shortest. It is “the art of building” (Viollet-le-Duc, Dict., I, 116). The art, be it observed, and not merely the act of building. And when we say the art of building, the term must be held to imply the giving to buildings of whatever beauty is consistent with their primary purpose and with the resources that may be available. As a recent writer has said: “It can hardly be held that there is one art of making things well, and another of making them badly…. Good architecture is… the art of building beautifully and expressively; and bad architecture is the reverse. But architecture is the art of building in general” (Bond, Gothic Architecture in England, 1). Since, however, the word building is apt to suggest, primarily, “the actual putting together of… materials by manual labor and machinery”, it may be desirable to amend or restrict the definition given above by saying that architecture is the art of planning, designing, and drawing buildings, and of directing the execution thereof (Bond, op. cit., 2). And in this art as in all others, including that of life itself, the fundamental principle should always be that of subordinating means to ends and secondary to primary ends. Where this principle is or has been abandoned or lost sight of, the result may indeed be, or may have been, a building which pleases the eye, but it must needs be also one which offends that sense of the fitness of things, which is the criterion of the highest kind of beauty. Now a church is, primarily, a building intended for the purpose of public worship; and in all sound ecclesiastical architecture this purpose should be altogether paramount. To build a church for the admiration of “the man in the street”, who sees it from outside, or of the tourist who pays it a passing visit, or of the artist, or of anyone else whatsoever except that of the faithful who use the church for prayer, the hearing of Mass, and the reception of the sacraments, is to commit a solecism in the noblest of all the material arts. Even the needs of the liturgy itself are in a sense subsidiary to the needs of the faithful. Sacramenta propter homines is an old and sound saying. But, on the other hand, among the needs of the faithful must be reckoned, under normal circumstances, the adequate carrying out of the liturgy. It is, of course, perfectly true to say that a church is not only a building in which we worship God, but also itself the expression of an act of worshipful homage. This, however, it ceases to be, at least in the highest degree, unless, as has been said, the aesthetic qualities of the building have been entirely subordinated to its primary purpose. It only needs a little reflection to see that these preliminary remarks have a very practical bearing on modern church-building. There is always a danger lest we should be dominated by technical terms and conventional opinions about the merits of this or that style of architecture, derived from times and circumstances that have passed away; lest we should be led by sentiment or fashion, or mere lack of originality, to copy from the buildings of a by-gone age without stopping to consider whether or how far the needs of our own day are those of the days when those buildings were raised. And the chief use of the study of the history of ecclesiastical architecture is not that it directs attention to a number of buildings more or less beautiful in themselves, but that it cannot fail to bring home to us that all true architectural development was inspired, primarily, by the desire to find a solution of some problem of practical utility.

Roughly speaking, all ecclesiastical architecture may be said to have been evolved from two distinct germ-cells, the oblong and the circular chamber. From the simple oblong chamber to the perfect Gothic cathedral the steps can be plainly indicated and admit of being abundantly illustrated from the actual course of architectural development in Western Europe (Brown, “From Schola to Cathedral“, passim), while the links which connect the simple circular chamber with a gigantic cruciform domed church, like St. Peter’s in Rome or St. Paul’s in London, are still more obvious, though the actual course of development in the case of domed churches has been far less continuous and regular.


—That the first places set apart for Christian worship were rooms in private dwellings is admitted on all hands; and, although it is at least doubtful whether all the texts from the New Testament which have been alleged in support of the statement will bear the interpretation that has been put upon them, the statement itself hardly needs proof (Messmer in “Zeitschr. f. christl. Arch.”, 1859, 212 sqq.; corrected by Lange, “Haus u. Halle”, 273 sqq.). It maybe assumed, further, that such rooms would for the most part have a simple oblong form, with a door in one of the narrower sides. From the first, however, there must have been some kind of division between the portion of the room occupied by the officiating clergy (the thusiasterion, sanctuary, or presbytery) and the space allotted to the faithful; and this division, we may feel sure, was from a very early date marked by at least a breast-high barrier, analogous to that which still survives in the ancient cancelli of S. Clemente, Rome, and also by a curtain which veiled the altar from view during certain portions of the Liturgy. And here we find the suggestion of a first step in the development of a distinctively ecclesiastical architecture. When the first churches or chapels were erected as independent structures, an obvious economy would suggest that, especially in the case of smaller edifices, the sanctuary need not be built so broad or so high as what may already be called the nave; and an equally obvious regard for stability would suggest that the division should be marked by an arch, supporting the gable wall at the further end of the nave (Scott, English Church Architecture, 3). Moreover, both structural and liturgical needs would alike be served if the piers which support the dividing arch were projected inwards, somewhat beyond the side walls of the sanctuary; for the narrower the span the easier it would be to construct the arch, and to suspend a curtain from pier to pier. Thus, then, that rudimentary type of church or chapel would be reached of which archaic examples still survive in England and Ireland. Mr. Scott notes that in many of our oldest English churches there are clear indications that the opening from the nave into the sanctuary was originally much narrower than it is at present. He further notes that in the persistent adherence to the square-ended type of sanctuary which manifests itself throughout the history of English ecclesiastical architecture, may possibly be found a surviving indication of the very early introduction of Christianity into these islands (Scott, op. cit., 4).

The earliest improvement on the crude form of the oblong chamber with its rectangular annex, and one which may well have become usual even while the liturgy was confined to a single room in a private house, was to throw out a semicircular apse at the end of the chamber opposite the door, or to select for the purposes of worship a room thus built. And this would almost certainly be the form adopted, at least in Rome, as soon as the Christian communities began to possess separate buildings in which to hold their religious meetings. These buildings would be, in the eyes of the public and perhaps of the law, scholoe or guild-rooms; and for such buildings the form most commonly adopted appears to have been that of an oblong terminated by an apse (Brown, op. cit., 51 sqq.; cf. Lange, op. cit., 291 sqq.). In the apse, of course, was placed the seat of the bishop; round the walls on either side were the subsellia of the assistant clergy, while the altar stood beneath the arch formed by the opening of the apse, or slightly in advance of it. On the hither side of the altar would be a space reserved for the clerics of inferior rank, and for the schola cantorum, as soon as an organized body of singers, under whatever name, came into existence. Outside the boundary of this space, however it may have been marked, the general body of the faithful would have their place, and at the lower end of this chamber, or in some kind of ante-room or narthex, or possibly even in an outer court, would be placed the catechumens and—when ecclesiastical discipline was sufficiently developed—the penitents.

This particular form of the domestic church, removed by just one degree, architecturally speaking, from a quite primitive simplicity, deserves special attention. For there would seem to be good grounds for the assertion that it had become at least not uncommon, even within Apostolic times. In fact, as several writers on the subject have quite independently pointed out, the main feature of the arrangement would seem to be indicated in the New Testament itself. The visions recorded in the Apocalypse are, of course, Divine revelations; but, as the vision of Ezechiel was cast in the mould of the Jewish ritual, so also those of St. John may be reasonably thought to reflect the ritual of primitive Christianity (Scott, op. cit., 211 sq.; Weizsäcker in “Jahrb. f. deutsche Theol.”, xxi, 480 sq.; Lange, op. cit., 298 sqq.). There, then, in the midst, we see the throne, whereon there sits One enthroned, of whom the Christian bishop is the representative; and with Him are four and twenty presbyters, who are “priests” (hiereis), ranged in a semicircle (kuklothen), twelve on either hand (Apoc., iv, 2, 4). Within the space bounded by these seats is a pavement of glass “like to crystal” (possibly of mosaic), and in the center the altar (Apoc., iv, 6; vi, 9; viii, 3; ix, 13; xvi, 7). On the hither side of this are the one hundred and forty-four thousand “signed”, or “sealed”, who “sing a new canticle”, and who incidentally bear witness to the very early origin of the schola cantorum, at least in some rudimentary form (Apoc., vii, 4; xiv, 1-3). Farther removed from the altar is that “great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and tribes, and peoples, and tongues”, the heavenly counterpart of the coetus fidelium (Apoc., vii, 9).

To lateral columns and aisles there is indeed no allusion, but it is at least possible that in the mention of the outer court which is “given unto the Gentiles” we may find the earliest traces of the atrium or parvis, which in later ages formed part of the precincts of a fully equipped basilica (Apoc., xi, 2; Scott, op. cit., 31). Moreover, in these same Apocalyptic visions certain details of internal arrangement, which might perhaps have been thought to have been of comparatively late development, appear to be clearly implied. Every one is aware that in the basilicas of the fourth and succeeding centuries the altar was surmounted by a baldachin, or civory; and it is hardly less certain that the civory was not merely a canopy, but a means of support for curtains which during certain portions of the Liturgy were drawn round the altar. Traces of these ancient curtains still survive in those which flank our modern altars, in our tabernacle veils, and in the very name tabernacle, i.e. “tent”, and also, curiously enough, in “those imitations of silken vallances, cast in bronze,… which we see in the canopies of S. Maria Maggiore and St. Peter’s” (Scott, op. cit., 29). In addition to these canopy veils, however, we hear of curtains which, when drawn close, concealed the entire sanctuary from view. In the East these have, of course, been replaced by the iconostasis, a screen formerly latticed but now usually solid; while in the West they are represented, not without some change of position, by our chancel screens, and may be thought to have found another modified survival in the Lenten veil of the Middle Ages.

Now, whatever may be the case as regards the civory with its veils, there are clear indications in the Apocalypse that the transverse curtains were in use from Apostolic times. For the seer thrice makes mention of a “voice” which he heard, and which proceeded either “from the four horns of the golden altar” (Apoc., ix, 13), or “from the temple of the tabernacle of the testimony” (Apoc., xv, 5), or “from the throne” (Apoc., xvi, 17). From the first of these expressions it is plain that the altar, at the moment when the voice was heard, must have been shrouded from view, and from the last it appears that the throne was likewise within the space enclosed within the veil. As regards other ritual indications in the Apocalypse, it must be sufficient barely to mention here the “souls of the martyrs” beneath the altar, the incense, the opening of the sealed book, and the garb, carefully distinguished, of the various classes of persons mentioned in the visions (Apoc., vi, 9; viii, 3; etc.).


—A great deal of conjecture has been expended on the question as to the genesis of the Roman basilica. (The question has been discussed at great length by Zestermann, Messmer, Kraus, Lange, Durm, Dehio and von Bezold, and others.) For present purposes it may be sufficient to observe that the addition of aisles to the nave was so manifest a convenience that it might not improbably have been thought of, even had models not been at hand in the civic buildings of the Empire. The most suitable example that can be chosen as typical of the Roman basilica of the age of Constantine is the church of S. Maria Maggiore. And this, not merely because, in spite of certain modern alterations, it has kept in the main its original features, but also because it departs, to a lesser extent than any other extant example, from the classical ideal. The lateral colonnade is immediately surmounted by a horizontal entablature, with architrave, frieze, and cornice all complete. The monolithic columns, with their capitals, are, moreover, homogeneous, and have been cut for their position, instead of being, like those of so many early Christian churches, the more or less incongruous and heterogeneous spoils of older and non-Christian edifices. Of this church, in its original form, no one—however decidedly his tastes may incline to some more highly developed system or style of architecture—will call in question the stately and majestic beauty. The general effect is that of a vast perspective of lines of noble columns, carrying the eye forward to the altar, which, with its civory or canopy, forms so conspicuous an object, standing, framed, as it were, within the arch of the terminal apse, which forms its immediate and appropriate background.

S. Maria Maggiore is considerably smaller than were any of the other three chief basilicas of Rome (St. Peter’s, St. Paul’s, and the Lateran). Each of these, in addition to a nave of greater length and breadth, was furnished (as may still be seen in the restored St. Paul’s) with a double aisle. This, however, was an advantage which was not unattended with a serious drawback from a purely aesthetic point of view. For a great space of blank wall intervening between the top of the lateral colonnade and the clerestory windows was of necessity required in order to give support to the pent-house roof of the double aisle. And it is curious, to say the least, that it should not have occurred to the builders of those three basilicas to utilize a portion of the space thus enclosed, and at the same time to lighten the burden of the wall above the colonnade, by constructing a gallery above the inner aisle. It is true, of course, that such a gallery is found in the church of S. Agnese, where the low level of the floor relatively to the surface of the ground outside may have suggested this method of construction; but whereas, in the East, the provision of a gallery (used as a gynaeceum) was usual from very early times, it never became otherwise than exceptional in the West. Taking East and West together, we find among early and medieval basilican churches examples of all the combinations that are possible in the arrangement of aisles and galleries. They are (I) the single aisle without gallery, which is, of course, the commonest type of all; (2) the double aisle without gallery, as in the three great Roman basilicas; (3) the single aisle with gallery, as in S. Agnese; (4) the double aisle with single gallery, as in St. Demetrius at Thessalonica; and finally, as a crowning example, though of a later period, the double aisle surmounted by a double gallery, as in the Duomo at Pisa.

These, however, are modifications in the general design of the building. Others, not less important, though they are less obviously striking, concern the details of the construction. Of these the first was the substitution of the arch for the horizontal entablature, and the second that of the pillar of masonry for the monolithic column. The former change, which had already come into operation in the first basilica of St. Paul Without the Walls, was so obviously in the nature of an improvement in point of stability that it is no matter for surprise that it should have been almost universally adopted. Colonnaded and arcaded basilicas, as we may call them, for the most part older than the eleventh century, are to be found in the most widely distant regions, from Syria to Spain, and from Sicily to Saxony; and the lack of examples in Southern France is probably due to the destructive invasions of the Saracens and Northmen and to the building of new churches of a different type, in the eleventh and succeeding centuries, on the ruins of the old. The change from column to pillar, though in many cases it was no doubt necessitated by lack of suitable materials—for the supply of ready-made monoliths from pagan buildings was not inexhaustible—proved, in fact, the germ of future development; for from the plain square support to the recessed pillar, and from this again to the grouped shafts of the Gothic cathedrals of later times, the progress can be quite plainly traced.

Mention should here be made of a class of basilican churches, in which as in S. Miniato, outside Florence, and in S. Zenone, Verona, pillars or grouped shafts alternate, at fixed intervals, with simple columns, and serve the purpose of affording support to transverse arches spanning the whole width of the nave; a first step, it may be observed, to continuous vaulting.


—Something must now be said of the very important alterations which the eastern end of the basilican church underwent in the process of development from the Roman to what may conveniently be grouped together under the designation of “Romanesque” types. When, in studying the ground-plan of a Roman basilica, we pass from the nave and aisles to what lies beyond them, only two forms of design present themselves. In the great majority of instances the terminal apse opens immediately on the nave, with the necessary result, so far as internal arrangements are concerned, that the choir, as we should call it, was an enclosure, quite unconnected with the architecture of the building, protruding forwards into the body of the church, as may still be seen in the church of S. Clemente in Rome. In the four greater basilicas, however, as well as in a few other instances, a transept was interposed between the nave and the apse, affording adequate space for the choir in its central portion, while its arms (which did not project beyond the aisles) served the purpose implied in the terms senatorium and matroneum. Now it is noteworthy that the transept of a Roman basilica is, architecturally speaking, simply an oblong hall, crossing the nave at its upper extremity, and forming with it a T-shaped cross, or crux immissa, but having no organic structural relation with it. But it was only necessary to equalize the breadth of transept and nave, so that their crossing became a perfect square, in order to give to this crossing a definite structural character, by strengthening the pieces at the four angles of the crossing, and making them the basis of a more or less conspicuous tower. And this was one of the most characteristic innovations or improvements introduced by the Romanesque builders of Northern Europe. In fact, however, before this stage of development was reached, the older basilican design had undergone another modification. For the simple apse, opening immediately into the transept, church builders of all parts of Europe had already in the eighth century substituted a projecting chancel, forming a fourth limb of the cross, which now definitively assumed the form of the crux commissa, by contrast with the crux immissa of the Roman basilica. The earliest example of a perfectly quadrate crossing, with a somewhat rudimentary tower, appears to have been the minster of Fulda, built about A.D. 800. It was quickly followed by St. Gall (830), Hersfeld (831), and Werden (875); but nearly two centuries were to elapse before the cruciform arrangement, even in the case of more important churches, can be said to have gained general acceptance (Dehio and v. Bezold, Die kirchliche Baukunst des Abendlandes, I, 161).

The differences which have already been mentioned were, however, by no means the only ones which distinguished the Romanesque from the Roman transept. The transept of a Romanesque church, especially of those which were attached to monasteries, was usually provided with one or more apses, projecting from the east side of its northern and southern arms; and from this it appears, plainly enough, that the purpose, or at least a principal purpose, of the medieval transept, was to make provision for subsidiary altars and chapels. A pair of transept apses, projecting eastwards, already makes its appearance at Hersfeld and Werden. At Bernay, Boscherville (St-Georges), and Cerisy-la-Forèt (St-Vigor), each arm of the transept has two eastern apses, corresponding respectively to the aisle and to the projecting arm. The same arrangement is found also at Tarragona. At La Charité, a priory dependent on Cluny, each arm had three apses, so that there were seven in all, immediately contiguous to one another, and varying in depth from the central to the northern and southern members of the system. The plan of Cluny itself was that of a cross with two transverse beams. Of the western transept each arm had two apses; of the eastern each had three, two projecting eastwards and one terminal. Saint-Benoït-sur-Loire had likewise a double transept, furnished on the same principle with six subsidiary apses. Among English cathedrals—it may here be mentioned—both Canterbury and Norwich have a single chapel projecting from each arm of their respective transepts; and at Ely the “Galilee” porch, which has the form of a western transept, opens eastwards into two apsidal chapels, contiguous on either side to the main walls of the cathedral.

Far more important in their bearing on the later history of architecture than these developments of the transept were certain changes which gradually took place in connection with the chancel. It is not unusual in Romanesque churches, to find the chancel flanked, like the nave, with aisles, terminating in apsidal or square-ended chapels. But in more considerable edifices, especially in France, the aisle is often carried round as an ambulatory behind the chancel apse; and when this is the case, the ambulatory most commonly opens into a series of radiating chapels. These are, in the earliest examples, entirely separate from one another, being sometimes two or four, but more usually three or five, in number. In later examples the number of chapels increases to seven or even nine; and they are then contiguous, forming a complete corona or chevet.

The first beginnings of this system go back to so early a date as the fifth century. De Rossi has argued, apparently on good grounds, that some early Roman, Italian, and African basilicas were furnished with an ambulatory round the apse. This form of design, however, was soon abandoned in Italy, and in the Romanesque pre-Gothic period it cannot be said to have been usual anywhere except in France, where it proved a seed rich with the promise of future developments. The earliest instance of its adoption there was almost certainly the ancient church of St. Martin of Tours, as rebuilt by Bishop Perpetuus in A.D. 470. This edifice, as Quicherat has shown, had a semicircular ambulatory at the back of the altar, in which, a few years later, was placed the tomb of Perpetuus himself. From Tours the type seems to have passed to Clermont-Ferrand (Sts. Vitalis and Agricola), and thence, many centuries later, to Orléans (St-Aignan, 1029). Meanwhile, in 997, the church of St. Martin had been rebuilt, and in the foundations of this edifice, which can still be traced, we find what is probably the earliest example of a chevet or corona of radiating chapels. It served, in its turn, in the course of the following century, as the model, in this respect, of Notre-Dame de la Couture at Le Mans (c. 1000), St-Remi at Reims (c. 1010), St-Savin at Saint-Savin (1020-30), the cathedral at Vannes (c. 1030), St-Hilaire at Poitiers (1049), and the abbey church at Cluny, as rebuilt in 1089. Shortly before 1100 the church of St. Martin was once more rebuilt, on a scale of greater splendor; and once more the new building became the model for other churches, chief among which were those of St-Sernin at Toulouse (1096), of Santiago at Compostela (c. 1105), and of the cathedral at Chartres (1112).


—The history of ecclesiastical architecture in Western Europe during the relatively short period which alone deserves to be regarded as one of more or less continuous and steady advance, and which extends, roughly speaking, from 1000 to 1300, may be described as the history of successive and progressive attempts to solve the problem, how best to cover with stone vaulting a basilican or quasi-basilican church, that is to say, a building of which the leading feature is a nave flanked with aisles and lighted with clerestory windows (Dehio and v. Bezold, op. cit., I, 296; Bond, op. cit., 6). It was the conditions of this problem, and the failure, more or less complete, of all previous attempts to solve it satisfactorily, and by no means a mere aesthetic striving after beauty of architectural form, which led step by step to the development of the Gothic architecture of the thirteenth century in its unsurpassed and unsurpassable perfection.

The advantages of a vaulted, as compared with a timber, roof are so obvious that we are not surprised to find, dating from the tenth century or at latest from the beginning of the eleventh, examples of basilican churches with vaulted aisles (Viollet-le-Duc, Dict., I, 177). Indeed these first attempts at continuous vaulting would probably have been made much earlier but for the invasions of Saracens and Northmen, which delayed till that period the first beginnings of a steady development in ecclesiastical architecture, but which by their wholesale destruction of pre-existing buildings may be said to have prepared the way for that same development. The vaulting of the nave, however, in the case of any church of considerable size, was a very different matter; and it was not until the eleventh century was well advanced that the problem was seriously faced. And when at last it was definitely taken in hand, this was done under pressure of dire necessity. Everyone who is at all conversant with medieval chronicles, or with the history of the cathedrals of Western Europe, must be aware how extremely frequent were the disasters caused by conflagrations (Dehio and v. Bezold, op. cit., I, 296), and it was natural enough that the church-builders of the later Middle Ages should aim at making their buildings, at least relatively, fire-proof.

The simplest form which the vaulting of a rectangular chamber can take is, of course, the cylindrical barrel-vault; and this is, in fact, the form which was adopted in many of the earliest examples of vaulted roofs, especially in the south of France; a form, too, which was extensively used in Italy during the age of the Renaissance. But, though simplest alike in conception and in construction, the cylindrical barrel-vault is in fact the least satisfactory that could be devised for its purpose; and the objections which militate against its employment are equally valid against that of the barrel-vault whose cross section forms a pointed arch. Of these objections the chief is that the horizontal thrust of a barrel-vault is evenly distributed throughout its entire length. Theoretically, then, this thrust requires to be met, not by a series of buttresses, but by a continuous wall of sufficient thickness to resist the outward pressure at any and every point along the line. Moreover, the higher the wall, the greater is the thickness needed, assuming of course that the wall stands free, like the clerestory wall of an aisled church. Much, too, will depend on the cohesiveness of the vaulting itself; and as the Romanesque church-builders were either unacquainted with, or unable to use, the methods by which the Romans and the Byzantines respectively contrived to give an almost rigid solidity to their masonry, it is no matter for surprise that in two large classes of instances they should have been content to sacrifice either the clerestory or the aisles to the advantages of a vaulted roof and to the exigencies of stability. Of aisleless churches, indeed, we must forbear here to speak. But of an important group of buildings which German writers have designated Hallenkirchen (hall-churches) a word must be said as they unquestionably played a part in preparing the way for the final solution of the problem of vaulting.

The most rudimentary form of hall-church is that in which the nave and aisles are roofed with three parallel barrel-vaults, those of the aisles springing from the same level as those of the nave. Examples are found at Lyons (St-Martin d’Ainay), at Lesterps, Civray, and Carcassonne (St-Nazaire) (Dehio and v. Bezold, op. cit., Pl. 122, figs. 3-6). An improvement on this design, in view of the illumination of the nave, consists in giving to the vaulting of the aisles the form of a “rampant” arch, as at Silvacanne, and from this it was but a step to the arrangement by which the section took the form of a simple quadrant, as at Parthenay-le-Vieux, Preuilly, and Fontfroide. This method of quadrant vaulting, as Viollet-le-Duc and others have observed, provides a kind of continuous internal “flying buttress”, though it is by no means certain that the idea of the flying buttress in the Gothic architecture of Northern France was actually suggested by these Southern buildings (Viollet-le-Duc, Dict., I, 173). In point of stability, the hall-churches of the eleventh century leave nothing to be desired. Their great defect is want of light (Viollet-le-Duc, Dict., I, 176). And this defect almost equally affects a class of buildings which may be described as two-storied hall-churches, and which are found principally, if not exclusively, in Auvergne and its neighborhood. These are furnished, like a few of the Roman basilicas and certain Byzantine churches, with a gallery, which is not a mere triforium contrived in the thickness of the walls, but a chamber of equal dimensions with the aisle. This arrangement not only affords additional space, but also, by reason of the greater height of the edifice, might seem to facilitate the provision of a more liberal supply of light, unimpeded by neighboring buildings. This last-mentioned advantage is, however, almost entirely negatived by the circumstance that, in this class of buildings, each bay of the gallery is subdivided by means of coupled or grouped arches, so that the additional obstructions offered to the passage of the light almost entirely counterbalance the possible gain through additional fenestration. We say “the possible gain” because, in fact, the galleries of these churches are but sparingly provided with windows. In these churches (which to the English reader should be of special interest by reason of their affinity in point of construction to the Westminster cathedral) the aisle is usually cross-vaulted, while the gallery has a quadrant vault abutting in the wall of the nave just below the springing of the transverse arches. The most noteworthy examples are found at Clermont-Ferrand (Notre-Dame du Port), Issoire (St-Paul), and Conques. To the same family belongs, moreover, the great church of St-Sernin at Toulouse, already mentioned, which is distinguished from those previously named by having a double aisle. At Nevers the church of St-Etienne resembles those at Clermont, Issoire, and Conques, except that it is provided with a range of upper windows which break through the barrel-vaulting, somewhat after the fashion which afterwards became so common in Italy in churches of the Renaissance period.

The inherent shortcomings of the barrel-vault, especially when used as a roof for the nave of an aisled church, have been sufficiently illustrated. These disadvantages, so far as structural stability and fenestration are concerned, might indeed be overcome by adopting the system of a succession of transverse barrel-vaults, such as are seen in the unique instance of the church of St-Philibert at Tournus. Such a construction is, however, “ponderous and inelegant, and never came into general use” (Moore, Gothic Architecture, 42). The system of cross-vaulting, which has now to be considered, may be regarded as a combination of longitudinal with transverse barrel-vaulting, inasmuch as it may be described as consisting of a central barrel which is penetrated or intersected by a series of transverse vaults, corresponding of course to the successive bays or compartments of the nave. The advantages of cross-vaulting are threefold. In the first place the total amount of the outward lateral thrust is very greatly diminished, since one-half of it is now replaced by longitudinal thrusts, which, being opposed in pairs, neutralize one another. Secondly, all that is left of the lateral thrust, as well as the longitudinal thrusts, and the whole of the vertical pressure, instead of being distributed throughout the whole length of the building, is now collected and delivered at definite points, namely the summits of the columns or pillars. Thirdly and lastly, a perfectly developed system of cross-vaulting makes it possible so to heighten the clerestory windows that their archivolts shall reach the utmost interior height of the building, and so to broaden them that their width between reveals may approximate very closely to the interval between column and column below. By these improvements (as ultimately realized in the perfected Gothic of the thirteenth century) the somewhat rudimentary design of the ancient Roman basilica may be said to have reached the highest development of which it is capable. The gradual development of cross-vaulting, it is to be observed, did not take place in those districts of Southern and Central France which had already become the home of the barrel-vault and to a less degree of the cupola, but first in Lombardy, then in Germany, and finally in Northern France and in England. In these countries the evolution of the Romanesque timber-roofed basilican church had—with local variations of course—reached a far more advanced stage than was ever attained in those regions in which the adoption of barrel-vaulting at a relatively early date had in a manner put a check on architectural progress. And it is noteworthy that in Lombardy and Germany, when cross-vaulting was first adopted, its development was far less complete than in Northern France, and that in like manner the advance towards perfection was both less rapid and less complete in Normandy than in Picardy and the Ile-de-France. These two districts were the last to adopt the system, but it was here that it was, within the brief space of less than fifty years (1170-1220), brought to its final perfection. The reason may probably have been, as Dehio and von Bezold suggest, that the architects of the Ile-de-France, in the days of Philip Augustus and St. Louis, were less trammelled than those of Normandy by the traditions of a school. The comparative lack of important architectural monuments of an earlier date left them, say these writers, a more open field for their inventive enterprise (op. cit., I, 418).

The simplest form of cross-vaulting is of course that which is formed by the intersection of two cylindrical barrel-vaults of equal span. And this, without the use of ribbed groining, was the method mostly adopted by the Roman builders in their civic edifices. In the case of a pillared or columned church, however, this method had its disadvantages. In particular, having regard to the dimensions of the aisle and its vaulting, the builders of Northern Europe had all but universally adopted the plan of so spacing the columns and pillars which flank the nave that the intervals between them should be one-half the width of the church. Now the only means by which an equal height could be given to vaults of unequal span was the use of the pointed arch; and so it came about that the pointed arch was adopted, not primarily for aesthetic reasons, but rather for constructive purposes. And the same is to be said of the use of ribbed groining. The medieval builders, who, as has been said above, possessed neither a tenacious mortar nor the command of an abundant supply of rough labor, and who therefore could not—even had they wished it—have adopted the massive concrete masonry of the Romans, were driven by the very necessities of the case to aim at lightness in the construction of their vaults, and at the same time to depend for stability not on the cohesion of the materials, but on the reduction of thrusts to a minimum, and on their skillful transmission to points where they could be effectively resisted. It was, then, plainly desirable to substitute for a vaulting of uniform thickness a framework of ribs on which a comparatively thin layer of stones (cut to the requisite curvature) could be laid, and as far as possible to lighten the whole construction by moulding the ribs and likewise the columns which supported the vaulting. The same principle of aiming at lightness of construction led to the elimination, as far as possible, of all masses of solid masonry above the columns and arches of the nave. This was done by the enlargement of the windows and the development of the triforium, till the entire building, with the exception of the buttresses, and of the spandrels below the triforium, became a graceful framework of grouped shafts and interlacing ribs (Moore, op. cit., 17). The final stage in the evolution of architecture of the pointed arch was not, however, reached, until, for the solid Romanesque buttresses, which rested on the vaulting of the aisles, and which were not only clumsy but often proved inadequate for their purpose, the genius of the Gothic builders hit upon the epoch-making device of the flying buttress. By means of this device the thrust of the main vaulting was not, indeed, as has been too often said, “met by a counter-thrust”, but was transmitted to the solid buttresses, mostly weighted with pinnacles, which were now built outwards to a great distance from the aisles, and the spaces between which were sometimes utilized, and might with advantage have been more often utilized, for a range of lateral chapels. (Bond, op. cit., 754; cf. Moore, op. cit., 20.) The subject of Gothic architecture in its details is, however, one that needs separate treatment, and for present purposes this very inadequate indication of some of the general principles involved in its development must suffice.


—It was stated at the outset of this article that all ecclesiastical architecture may be said to have been developed from two primitive germs, the oblong and the circular chamber. Of those very numerous churches, principally, but by no means exclusively, Eastern or Italian, which may be regarded as the products of the second line of development, we shall speak very briefly. That a circular chamber without any kind of annex was unsuitable for the ordinary purposes of public worship is plain enough. And the most obvious modification of this rudimentary form was to throw out a projecting sanctuary on one side of the building, as in St. George’s, Thessalonica, or in the little church of S. Tommaso in Limine, near Bergamo. It was hardly less obviously convenient to build a projecting porch or narthex on the opposite side, as in St. Elias‘s, also at Thessalonica, and to complete the cross by means of lateral projections, as in the sepulchral chapel of Calla Placidia at Ravenna. Thus it was that churches having the form of a Greek cross, as well as other varieties of what German writers call the Centralbau, may be said to owe their origin to a very simple process of evolution from the circular domed building. Among the almost endless varieties on the main theme may be here enumerated: (I) buildings in which a circular, or polygonal, or quadrilateral aisle, whether in one or more stories, surrounds the central space; (2) buildings in which, though the principal open space is cruciform, and the whole is dominated by a central cupola, the ground-plan shows a rectangular outline, the cross being, as it were, “boxed” within a square; and (3) buildings in which one of the arms of the cross is considerably elongated, as in the Duomo at Florence, St. Peter’s in Rome, and St. Paul’s in London. The last-named modification, it is to be observed, had the effect of assimilating the ground-plan of those great churches, and of many lesser examples of the same character, to that of the Romanesque and Gothic cruciform buildings whose genealogical descent from the columned rectangular basilica is incontestable. Among ecclesiastical edifices of historical importance or interest which are either circular or polygonal, or in which the circular or polygonal center predominates over all subsidiary parts of the structure, may be mentioned the Pantheon in Rome, St. Sergius at Constantinople, S. Vitale at Ravenna, S. Lorenzo at Milan, the great baptisteries of Florence, Siena, and Pisa, and the churches of the Knights Templars in various parts of Europe. St. Luke’s at Stiris in Phocis, besides being an excellent typical instance of true Byzantine architecture, affords a good example of the “boxing” of a cruciform building of the Greek type, by enclosing within the walls the square space between the adjacent limbs of the cross.

Practically, however, the full development of cruciform from circular buildings became possible only when the problem had been solved of roofing a square chamber with a circular dome. This has in some cases been done by first reducing the square to an octagon, by means of “squinches” or “trompettes”, and then raising the dome on the octagon, by filling in the obtuse angles of the figure with rudimentary pendentives or faced corbelling. But already in the sixth century the architect and builder of Santa Sophia had showed for all time that it was possible, by means of “true” pendentives, to support a dome, even of immense size, on four arches (with their piers) forming a square. The use of pendentives being once understood, it became possible, not only to combine the advantages of a great central dome with those of a cruciform church, but also to substitute domical for barrel-vaulting over the limbs of the cross, as at S. Marco, Venice, St-Front, Périgueux, and S. Antonio, Padua, or even to employ domical vaulting for a nave divided into square bays, as in the cathedral at Angoulème and other eleventh-century churches in Périgord, in S. Salvatore at Venice, in the London Oratory, and (with the difference that saucer domes are here employed) in the Westminster Cathedral. Nor should it be forgotten that in the nave of St. Paul’s, London, the architect had shown that domical vaulting is possible even when the bays of nave or aisles are not square, but pronouncedly oblong. Indeed, if account be taken of the manifold disadvantages of barrel-vaulting as a means of roofing the nave of a large church, it may safely be said that the employment of some form of the dome or cupola is as necessary to the logical and structural perfection of the architecture of the round arch as ribbed groining and the use of flying buttresses are necessary to the logical and structural perfection of the architecture of the pointed arch.


—A word must now be said, in conclusion, as to the merits of the several systems and styles of architecture, more especially in relation to the needs of our own day. Of systems, indeed, there are in truth only three, the trabeate or that of which the horizontal lintel may be regarded as the generating element, and which of necessity postulates a timber roof; that of the round arch, which by virtue of the law of economy postulates, as has been said, the use of domical rather than barrel-vaulting; and that of the pointed arch, which, if carried to perfection, postulates ribbed groining and the use of the flying buttress. The second system, however, admits of two methods of treatment which are sufficiently distinctive to be classed as two “styles”, viz. the neo-classical, or Renaissance, and the Byzantine, and which shall be particularized presently.

Now the trabeate system, or that of the timber roof, may be very briefly dismissed. In the great majority of cases we must, indeed, of necessity be content with such a covering for our churches; but no one would choose a wooden roof who could afford a vaulted building. Again, the various types of Romanesque architecture, with their imperfect and tentative methods of vaulting, though historically of great interest, should be regarded as finally out of court. On the other hand, of the Gothic architecture of the thirteenth century, as exemplified in the great cathedrals of Northern France and of Cologne, it may be quite fearlessly asserted: (I) that every single principle of construction employed therein was the outcome of centuries of practical experience, in the form of successive and progressive attempts to solve the problems of church vaulting; (2) that the great loftiness of these buildings was not primarily due (as has been sometimes suggested) to any mere Emporstreben, or “upward-soaring” propensity, but was simply the aggregate result of giving to the windows of the aisles and of the clerestory a height in suitable proportion to their width, and to the triforium a height sufficient to allow of the abutment of the aisle roof; and (3) that every subsequent attempt to modify, in any substantial particular, this perfected Gothic style, was of its nature retrogressive and decadent, as might be illustrated from the English Perpendicular and the Italian and Spanish varieties of Gothic architecture. Nevertheless it must be admitted that thirteenth-century Gothic, though perfect of its kind, has its limitations, the most serious of which—in relation to modern needs—is the necessarily restricted width of the nave. When the architect of the Milan cathedral attempted to improve on his French predecessors by exceeding their maximum width of fifty feet, and to construct a Gothic building with a nave measuring sixty feet across, it was found impossible, as the building proceeded, to carry out the original design without incurring the almost certain risk of a collapse, and hence it was necessary to depress the clerestory to its present stunted proportions. Now under modern conditions of life, especially in the case of a cathedral of first-class importance, a nave of far greater width is by all means desirable; and in order to secure this greater width it is necessary either to fall back on the unsatisfactory compromise of Italian or Spanish Gothic, as illustrated in the cathedrals of Milan, Florence, or Gerona, or else to adopt the principle of the round arch, combined, by preference, with domical vaulting. This, as everyone knows, is what Mr. Bentley has done, with altogether conspicuous success, in the case of the Westminster Cathedral. Of the design of this noble edifice it is impossible to speak here. But it may be worth while to indicate one main reason for the choice of the Byzantine rather than the neo-classic or Renaissance treatment of the round-arch system. The principal difference between the two is this: that, whereas the neo-classical style, by its use of pilasters, treats every pier as though it were a cluster of huge, flat-faced columns, the Byzantine boldly distinguishes between piers and columns, and employs the latter exclusively for the purposes which monolithic shafts are suited to fulfil, for instance the support of a gallery; while the piers in a Byzantine building make no pretense of being other than what they are, viz., the main supports of the vaulting. The Byzantine method of construction, as employed at Westminster, has the further advantage that it brings within the building the whole of the spaces between the buttresses, thereby at the same time increasing the interior dimensions and avoiding the awkward appearance of ponderous external supports. Nor is the Byzantine style of architecture suitable for a great cathedral alone; and one may venture to hope that the great experiment which has been tried at Westminster will be fruitful of results in the future development of ecclesiastical architecture.


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