~A Better Idea of Romanesque Architecture~ St-Sernin , Toulouse
The church of St-Sernin is in the southwestern French city of Toulouse, ancient capital of the region of Languedoc. St-Sernin is an example of what we sometimes call the ' Prlgrimage Road' type of Romanesque church , which was designed in part to solve a traffic problem.
Since the region around Toulouse has very little building stone, the church is constructed primarilyof the local peach-coloured brick. The builders used stone only for such special details as window-openings , doorways , corner-mouldings and sculptural decoration. The exterior view shows the cruciform layout , with a tall tower at the crossing of the two axes of the structure . This plan, which came to symbolize the body of Chirst on the cross , was traditional long before te beginning of construction of St-Sernin in the late eleventh century. The eastern complex, the sanctuary end of the church , is call ed the chevet. The word means 'pillow' in french. This portion of the church was conceived of as a kind of pillow for Christ's head as he hung upon the cross. It can be seen clearly how the tall , principal volumes of the building are surrounded by the peripheral walkway. Above this level,, and below the height of the tallest spaces , continuous galleries form an intermediate level. The building is organized in large clear masses of masonry marked off by stabilizing buttresses into structural units called bays. Each bay has its own window opening .
The same subdivision is seen into bays as on the outside of the building as one enter. This is characteristic of the organization of Romanesque structures. Compound piers support the main arcade , or ground storey . From each of these compound piers, half-columns rise past the arcaded galleries to the height of the barrel vault covering the nave. The galleries are vaulted with half-barrel vaults which exertcounter-pressure against the outward , downward thrust of the main barrel vaults.At ground level again , the aisles and ambulatory are vaulted with groin vaults , each bay making a clearly defined box of space . These bays are related proportionately to one another. Like the famous ninth-century monastery plan from St Gall in Switzerland which for centuries provided a model for an ideal church layout, the plan of St-Sernin depends on a module, the crossing bay . The bays of the nave are each one-half of the size of the crossing bay . The aisle bays are each one-fourth of the crossing bay.
The effect on the visitor is of an overwhelmingly vast , sheltering interior space, dark and cool in contrast to the blazing sunlight outside., This overpowering effect is enhanced by the echoing of sounds in the extreme length of the basilica.