Romanesque: c. 1000-1300

Western Europe was not a peaceful place during the 600 years after the fall of the Roman Empire. Western Europe (what is now Italy, France, Spain, England, etc.) had been repeatedly invaded. The result was a fractured feudal society with little stability and less economic growth. It was only in the 11th century that everything began to change. Peace and prosperity allow for travel and for the widespread construction of large buildings. The faithful set out on pilgrimages in great numbers to visit holy relics in churches across Europe. This meant that ideas and styles also traveled, towns grew and churches were built and enlarged. These were, with rare exceptions, the first large structures to be built in the west since the fall of the Romans so many centuries before. We call the period Romanesque (Roman-like) because the masons of this period looked back to the architecture of ancient Rome.

Durham Cathedral
Spiral columns, carved zig-zags, round arches—at Durham, the rhythmic Anglo-Norman Romanesque pulses with life.

Durham Cathedral

Tower, Cluny Abbey (Cluny III), 12th-century, Saône-et-Loire, Burgundy, France
For 200 years, Cluny housed a society of monks and boasted the largest church in Europe. Little from the 12th century remains.

Cluny Abbey

Virgin and Child in Majestry thumbnail
A serene Mary offers her draped lap as a throne for Christ. Her outsized hands direct the viewer to the divine.

Virgin and Child in Majesty

The Animated Bayeux Tapestry thumb
If cloth could talk…in a vivid animation of William’s conquest, armies clash and comets fly while a harp plays on.

The Animated Bayeux Tapestry

Virgin from Ger (detail)
Delicate and brightly colored, this statue from Spain combines elegance with solidity, the human with the divine.

Virgin from Ger

Saint-Trophime, Arles (France) - detail of sinners
On the doorway, sinners shuffle to their doom. Beneath, hellfire burns—its brighter, now, thanks to restoration.

Saint Trophime, Arles