Romanesque Architecture

A great deal of conjecture has been expended on the question as to the
genesis of the Roman basilica. 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, homogenous, 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 mere, 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 esthetic 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
penthouse 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
the single aisle without gallery, which is, of course, the commonest
type of all;
the double aisle without gallery, as in the three great Roman basilicas;
the single aisle with gallery, as in S. Agnese;
the double aisle with single gallery, as in St. Demetrius at
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 invasion of
the Saracens and Northmen and