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manner of the conquered English. As soon as the conqueror had made himself master in his new kingdom, cathedral and abbey churches were rebuilt on a scale hitherto unknown either in Normandy or England. As the effect of the Norman Conquest was to incorporate the church in England more closely with western Christendom, so its effect on architecture was to bring it into line with the best continental achievement of its time. The immense energy of the Norman bishops and abbots gave such a stimulus to architecture that by the close of the 11th century, England, rather than Normandy, had become the real foyer of the Norman school.

The plans of the larger churches show greater development in the length of choir, transept and nave than was usual in Normandy. Many follow the type of choir plan generally represented in the contemporary churches of Normandy which have survived—a central apse, flanked by an apse terminating each aisle, but the two bays usual in the Norman churches frequently became four in England. The Confessor’s church of Westminster seems to have had an ambulatory with radiating chapels, a plan which, although rare in the surviving churches of Normandy, was adopted in several of the more important English churches (St Augustine’s, Canterbury; Winchester; Worcester; Gloucester; Bury St Edmunds; Norwich; Tewkesbury). Some of these have great vaulted crypts extending under the choir and its aisles. The transept, generally of considerable length, has one or more apsidal chapels on the east side of each arm, or an eastern aisle, or even (as at Winchester and Ely) both eastern and western aisles. The lantern-tower over the crossing was a characteristic feature in England, as in Normandy. Frequently the nave was of great length, extending to twelve bays at Winchester, thirteen at Ely, and fourteen at Norwich. Some churches, as Ely, Bury St Edmunds, and later Peterborough (Plate VIII., fig. 81), show a western transept, with corresponding development of the west front. Two western towers are most usual, but Ely (Plate II., fig. 67), and originally Winchester, had the single western tower, a survival from pre-Conquest times, which is found also in numberless parish churches. In their general design, the Norman churches show great skill in composition, and in the logical expression of structure, and sure grasp of the problems to be solved. The subordination of arches (arches built in rings, or orders, recessed one within the other) was carried further than in other Romanesque schools, and with this went the subordination of the pier, planned with a shaft to receive each order of the semicircular arch. Sometimes the shafted piers of the great arcades alternate with cylindrical (or later with octagonal) pillars; sometimes, as at Gloucester and Tewkesbury, all the pillars are cylindrical. The triforium usually has a single wide semicircular arched opening, enclosing two or more minor semicircular arches springing from detached shafts. Usually the aisle wall is carried up to form a complete triforium storey, unvaulted, and lighted by windows in the outer wall. The clerestory has a single window in each bay, with a wall passage between the window and an internal arcade, usually of three semicircular arches on shafts, the central arch being wider than the side arches. Most frequently naves and transepts were unvaulted, and finished with wood ceilings, while the aisles were covered with groined vaults of rubble, on transverse arches. The general design of the greater churches indicates, however, that the Norman builders were aiming at a completely vaulted structure. The half-barrel vault over the triforium of Gloucester, and the transverse arches over the triforium of Chichester, seem to be constructed to afford the necessary abutment to vaults over the choir, such indeed as still exist over some choirs in Normandy built before the end of the 11th century. The problem was only successfully solved by the introduction of the diagonal rib, which completed the structural membering of the vault. Durham, begun in 1093 (fig. 42), is the earliest example in England of this important innovation, and it precedes by some quarter of a century the earliest ribbed vaults of the Île-de-France. The abutting arches under the roof of its triforium are actually rudimentary flying-buttresses, and we have here all the essential elements of Gothic architecture, except the pointed arch, which is only systematically used in English vaulted construction from about the middle of the 12th century. The decorative forms of the earlier buildings of the Norman school are severely simple. Arches, which at first were usually unmoulded, soon received effective mouldings of rolls and hollows, continuing a tradition of the latest pre-Conquest architecture. Two types of capitals are found in the earlier buildings after the Conquest; the volute capital, descended from the Corinthian, which was the normal type in Normandy; and the cubic or cushion capital, formed by the penetration of a segment of a sphere, or segments of cones, with a cube, a type which, appearing earlier in England than in Normandy, was doubtless derived from pre-Conquest models, and in the 12th century developed into the scalloped capital. The decoration of wall-surfaces by arcades, frequently of intersecting semicircular arches, is characteristic of the Norman school. Windows are splayed in the interior, and in the more important buildings are enriched with shafts and moulded arches. Ornamentation is frequently concentrated on the doorways, which are often of many orders, with a shaft under each order. Based chiefly on geometric forms, such as the chevron or zigzag, star, fret and cable, the decoration becomes richer and more refined as the 12th century advances, though in sculpture the Norman was less advanced than some other Romanesque schools.

EB 1911 Plan of Durham Cathedral.png
From Rickman’s Styles of Architecture, by permission of Parker & Co.

Fig. 42.—Plan of Durham Cathedral.

The foregoing generalization applies more particularly to the greater churches, but numberless parish churches present similar characteristics. Chancels are sometimes apsidal, but by far the most prevalent type of plan is the aisleless oblong nave and square-ended chancel, with or without a western tower. Other types of aisleless plans are the cruciform church with central tower, or simply nave and chancel with central tower. Even where subsequent alterations and rebuildings have destroyed almost everything, the influence of these plans on the later work is the key to a right understanding of the history of the greater number of English medieval churches.

12th Century (second half).—The second half of the 12th century is the period of transition par excellence—of transition from Romanesque to Gothic. The school of the Île-de-France, which up to c. 1120 was one of the most backward of the Romanesque schools, had made enormous progress when the ambulatory of Suger’s church of Saint-Denis was built (1140-1144), and thenceforth it continued to lead the way. There is no doubt that, from the middle of the 12th century, English architecture was continuously influenced by the Île-de-France, for the most part through Normandy, but it must be considered to be a development on parallel lines, with strongly marked characteristics of its own, and not merely as an importation of forms already developed elsewhere. At the same time, the influence of the Cistercian revival was considerable, not so much in the introduction of foreign forms as in the direction of simplicity and severity, which acted as a valuable check to the prevalent tendency to exaggerate the importance of surface decoration.

The substitution of the square east-end for the apse in the plans of the greater churches, already effected at Romsey, was furthered by the simple plans of the Cistercian churches. The altar spaces provided by the radiating chapels of the French chevet were in England obtained by returning the aisles across the square east-end of the choir, or by an eastern transept. The latter occurs first here in