History of Architecture

St. Sermin as a basilica style church

The basilica of St. Sermin is a church that is in Toulouse, France. It is the former abbey church of St. Saturnin. The church was built in the Romanesque style at around 1080 and 1120. It is situated at the site of former basilica of the fourth century. The church had the body of saint saturnine or sernin. Sernin was Toulouse's first bishop in c. 250.

St. Sernin's abbey was a prehistoric foundation. The bishop of Toulouse, St. Sylvius, started to construct the basilica at the end of fourth century. The importance of basilica increased after Charlemagne gave a quantity of relics to it, thus it became a significant stop for pilgrims as they were moving to Santiago de Compostela and a pilgrimage location on its right. The current building was constructed so that it can accommodate the pilgrims.  Abbey church plan was also utilized in the building of Santiago de Componstela cathedral (Fazio et al. 451).   

St. Martin Monastery

St. Martin Monastery is a Benedictine women's community in Rapid City, South Dakota. Within the monastery, the presence of God is displayed through communal life, prayer and work.  St. Martin normally follows the rule of St. Benedict. They usually provide hospitality through different forms of ministry to the indigenous people.

The new Romanesque style monastery was constructed from 1005 to 1009 by Guifred, count of cerdanya, as a compensation for the murder of his son and was later inhibited by Benedictine monks. Guifred, count of cerdanya, died in 1049, in the monastery that he built. In 1051 a messenger went to visit religious houses within Europe to ask for prayers for his dead master. He came back with a parchment upon which words of prayer and respect were added at every stop. This parchment has stayed for a long time and scholars, Leopold Delisle included, have employed it to discover differences in culture among the northern and southern Europe.

Some of the findings in this essential document include the southern culture and northern culture. The southern culture was very staid and bound by custom while the northern culture was very free form and practical in their writing styles, words and grammar use. The monastery was destroyed in the Catalan earthquake of 1428. It was later secularized in 1782 by Louis XVI. The monastery was deserted in 1783 to 1785 by the monks and fell into disrepair.

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The abbey was closed and its contents scattered during the terror. The buildings were then changed into a stone quarry for the close residents. The capitals of the cloister, sculptures and furniture were looted. The bishop of Elne and Perpignan started in 1902 to renovate the ruins radically. This work was accomplished in 1932. Currently it is being occupied by the catholic community of the beatitudes (Porter and Prince 237).

Historical events that influenced the architecture

St. Sernin is a church that is in the southwestern French city of Toulouse, prehistoric capital of Languedoc's region. St. Sernin is an example of pilgrimage road, a type of Romanesque church that was planned in part to solve a traffic crisis. The church was built primarily using the local peach-colored brick because the region around Toulouse has very few building stone. The constructors used stone only for specials details such as window-openings, corner-mouldings, doorways and sculptural decoration. The outside view displays the cruciform layout with a tall overlook at the crossing of the two axes of the building. The plan, that was meant to symbolize the Christ's body on the cross, was traditionally long before the building of St. Sernin in the late eleventh century.

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The eastern complex, that is, the sanctuary end of the church, is referred to as the chevet. In French, the word means pillow. This part of the church was visualized as a kind of pillow for head of Christ as he hung on the cross. It can be viewed clearly how the tall principal volumes of the structure are surrounded by the peripheral walkway. On top of this level and below the height of huge spaces, an intermediate level is formed by continuous galleries. The structure is planned in large clear masses of masonry that is marked off by stabilizing walls into structural units or bays. Every bay has its own window opening (Cunningham and Reich 248-9).

The floor arrangement of the Basilica of St. Sermin is a Latin cross, with a long wave, broad transcript and double side aisles. The nave of the church is supported by tall, thin round arches topped with galleries. The barrel vault of the nave is high by 23m from the ground and is normally supported by transverse arches. The vast transept is created on similar scale and is designed as nave. There are two hundred and sixty eight Romanesque capitals in the interior and most of them are positioned high in the gallery above the nave where they cannot be easily seen. They are also carved with plants decorations and some portray narrative scenes. The north transept has medieval frescoes that were found in the 1970s.

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Similar subdivision can be seen in bays as it appears from the outside of the building. This is a characteristic of the Romanesque structures' organization. Compound docks support the main arcade or ground storey. From every compound pier, half-columns normally rise beyond the arcaded galleries to the level of the barrel vault that covers the nave. The galleries are arched with half-barrel vaults that exert counter-pressure on the outward, downward push of the main barrel vaults. At ground level, the aisles and ambulatory are arched with groin vaults, each bay creating a clear defined box of space. The bays are proportionately related to each other.

Similar to the famous ninth century monastery plan, from St. Gall in Switzerland that has offered a model for an ideal church for centuries, the plan of St. Sermin relays on the module, the crossing bay. All the bays of the nave are one-half of the whole crossing bays. The aisle bays on the other hand are one fourth of the crossing bay.  The impact on the visitor is huge because the interior space has shelter. The interior space is dark and cool which is very different from the blazing sunlight outside. The overpowering impact can be increased by the echoing of sounds in the extreme length of the basilica.   

Pilgrimage churches

Santiago de Compestela was the only medieval pilgrimage church that was not an abbey. Because of its significance, Santiago de Compostela operated as the center of the diocese. Other pilgrimage churches therefore held other significant relics that attracted several visitors. Similar to Santiago, the churches were named after the relics that they have. The abbey of St. Martial in France was damaged in nineteenth century. St. Foy at Conques handful of manuscripts from the library, St. Martin at tours and St. Sernin at Toulouse were not destroyed (Charles and Carl 103-4). 

The greatest achievement of the Romanesque period was the establishment of pilgrimage churches. Majority of these churches were constructed for the sake of brevity. The abbey church was a masterpiece of Romanesque period and can also serve as a good example of architecture of its period. Abbey church of saint Foy has similar floor plan as that of saint Sernin of Toulouse. Based on the universal basilica type from early Christian and Imperial times, Saint Sernin contained a nave and a choir that is surrounded by an ambulatory.

The choir is the place that Saint statue and other holy relics are kept. The nave and transept were created with much additional space. Hundreds of pilgrims could listen to the sermon and receive the Eucharist from the cleric at the high altar, in front of the choir. Saint Sernin also has a dome that settles at the intersection of perpendicular axes over the high altar. The church is based on the cruciform plan and has radiating chapels that are similar to that of Saint Foy. Saint Sernin was designed with efficacy at the forefront. It has one of the masterpieces of Romanesque sculpture.

Currently majority of Christians still create pilgrimages to Santiago de Compestela. Some of them travel by modern means such as plane and car while others continue to employ the paths pilgrims have traversed since Middle Ages. The roads are always maintained and pilgrims can employ a guide to accompany them. Catholic mass is still done in the cathedral and is always open to the public.

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