Gratuitous Cathedral Post

One thing I hadn’t quite been expecting, when setting out to poke my nose in as many churches as possible, was that so few of them would be exhibiting a single cohesive architectural style. It makes sense, if you think about it – a cathedral takes a century or more to build, and then you tack new frilly bits later on as well, if you can afford it. A lived-in church is going to be a bit of a hotch-potch, and if done well the combination of styles can be attractive in its own right.

Nevertheless, in my head, hotchpotch ecclesiastical architecture is something I associate with antipodean church-builders who ran out of money and/or standstone for their neo-gothic edifices. I don’t have any good photos of the new part, but St Pauls Dunedin is a good example of what I’m talking about – they’ve managed to integrate a concrete chancel into a neo-gothic nave.

I think this is a product of the way architectural history is taught (at least the way it was taught to me – and bear in mind that I’m not a visual learner and shied away from art-history heavy subjects). Hey hey kids, Romanesque churches! *photo of a Romanesque ediface* Norman Cathedrals! *photo of the most Norman bits of a church with surviving norman bits* High Gothic! *photo of the flying buttresses of Notre Dame* I do remember one lecture which involved a lot of photographs of 14th-century additions to once-small parish churches in the wool-farming areas of England (they ended up looking like particularly horrendous wedding cakes), but I guess it hadn’t sunk in properly.

I’m not very good at differentiating between architectural or artistic styles, but seeing them all jammed up together in the one place is remarkably educational.

Consider Saint-Gatien de Tours:

Facade of St Gatien, ToursThis is, for my money, a rather obnoxious façade (and also not a brilliant photo). The church was started in the late 12th century, but I think (from wikipedia and the guide sheet, which I don’t have to hand right now) that it was the 14th century before they got so far as the main doors. Note the heavy high gothic decoration on the arches. The towers, on the other hand, are 16th century additions

Flying buttresses at rear of St-GatienThe chancel, which I think is mid-13th century, has the whole Gothic Spiderweb effect going on (although it’s quite hard to get a good shot of it, since there’s construction work all down one side).  Flying buttresses about to take off and fly away, methinks.

13-th century mural in St Gatien de ToursThe insufferably lucky sods still have some of the original 13th century murals – here you’ll see St GregoryMartin tearing his cloak in half and sharing it with a beggar.

Mural in process of restorationI couldn’t figure out what this mural actually depicts – it wasn’t signposted, and although I could follow the conversation of the people near me when they were discussing the restoration process, I didn’t pick up what the picture’s actually *of*. I think it might be a little older than St Greg, though – if you look above, St Greg’s halo is breaking out of the picture boundary into the text, whereas what I could see of thi sone seemed to be keeping within the frames. I learned something in the class I taught this year, and that’s that 12th-century figures stay within their frames, whereas mid/late 13th century sees figures creeping out of frames. Congrats to my supervisor, she managed to teach me *something * about art. Ten points to her.

Coming later – the cloister of St Gatien, a nifty progression from 12th century to renaissance.

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4 Responses to “Gratuitous Cathedral Post”

  1. Jonathan Jarrett Says:

    This is actually why I tend to prefer smaller churches: of course, cathedrals are awesome, but you hardly ever see them as a single piece of design, only a hack-job. My two principal cathedrals of reference, Sant Pere de Vic and Santa Maria de Girona, are both eleventh-to-eighteenth-century efforts and Vic, especially, has not come out of it as any kind of whole. Girona is OK, in as much as it has a Romanesque side and a baroque side but they don’t interfere with each other.

    As for the fresco, well, I can see a Madonna and child in the centre, in a building, and a man in a red cloak with halo worshipping outside the building at left, apparently about to suffer from the attentions of a man with raised sword at far left. This makes me think `martyr’, and the red cloak makes me think `Martin’, but since Martin wasn’t a martyr, I don’t know how to reconcile these things. This site seems to suggest that the cycle of murals is all St Martin and St Maurice, but it doesn’t seem to mention the one we’ve got here and I wonder whether there weren’t other saints in the cathedral’s liturgy who also needed their space on the walls.

  2. Tours, part two – La Psalette « The Naked Philologist Says:

    […] out to be one of the few places where I took consistent photos), but then I got distracted. The first post is here, and I should note that I have now corrected an error (it’s St Martin, not St […]


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