Saint Sernin of Toulouse and Notre Dame of Paris
When one thinks of St. Sernin and Notre Dame, one tends to think of two
beautiful cathedrals, not to churches that portray two totally different styles
of architecture. Those two styles are, of course, Romanesque in St. Sernin and
the Gothic style of Notre Dame. Some characteristics that these two buildings
share include quest for height, basic floor plan, and artistic flair. The
period of Romanesque architecture, which lasted roughly from 1050 A.D. to 1150
A.D., concentrated mainly on achieving massive proportions, rounded vaulted bays,
the round arch, the wall buttress, cylindrical apse and chapels, and towers.
Early Gothic architecture, which began in 1144 with the dedication of Saint
Denis, concentrated more on mastering the idea of an obscenely high ceiling, as
well as ribbed and pointed vaults, the relationship between the structure and
its appearance, and perhaps, most importantly the use of light.
One of the most enjoyable things about comparing the two structures of
St. Sernin and Notre Dame is that there are so many differences as far as the
particulars go, but in general the two cathedrals are very, very much alike.
Through the years, enough architectural and engineering advances had been made
to raise the ceiling to staggering new heights of over one hundred feet. The
materials remained the same as they had for years before, stone and mortar. The
basic floor plan remained the same, a cross. The nave had become longer and
more spectacular and the ceiling had been heightened due to recent discovery of
vaulted ceilings, but other than that, it was the same floor plan as ever. The
cathedrals were designed to draw vast numbers of people them, therefore they
were built so that one might not only come to worship, but to see the beauty of
the structure. Even to this day people are in awe of these building, and come
more to stare at their beauty than to worship God.
Regardless of how many likeness’ we are able to find between the
Romanesque style of St. Sernin and the Gothic style of Notre Dame, it is the
difference that make them so amazing. In my opinion there are three major
differences in Early Gothic and Romanesque styles of architecture. These are
the differences in buttresses, the use of towers, and the use of windows. From
the exterior, one of the first differences one would notice is the use of
flying buttresses in Gothic architecture. Where in Romanesque buildings,
standard buttresses would have been used, the buttresses on Gothic buildings
were detached from the building. This created a more open essence to the church
and in my opinion a more “spiritual” look. As far as the towers go, in
Romanesque structure the towers were used as a more central figure, while in
Gothic construction, the towers were used more as an entrance structure. Most
importantly though, is the different use of light. In Romanesque structures, as
is obvious in St. Sernin, it was realized that in a structure as big as a
cathedral, much light was needed. Therefore many, small windows were put in to
light up the deep bowels of the cathedral. In Gothic architecture, however, and
especially Notre Dame windows became a major part of the construction process.
They found that by transferring more of the force down the flying buttresses
that the vertical walls did not carry as much stress, therefore more windows
could be added without reducing structural integrity. Therefore windows were
put in on several levels, not only as a source of light, but as a form of art.
Most of the stained glass windows depicted either scenes from the bible or
people of royalty. The windows pierced through the walls and added to the
beauty of the cathedral. Between the addition of the flying buttresses and the
use of stained glass windows, Gothic cathedrals produced some of the most
beautiful and enormous works of art known to man. The use of sculptures,
stained glass, and gargoyles added to the Romanesque ideas of size, vaulted
ceilings, and towers made Gothic Architecture some of the most artistic and
fascinating buildings ever built.