|Art and architecture|
Building in stone
As of the late 10th century, we see a great renewal of architecture in Normandy. The scale of the destruction wreaked during the Viking invasions and the rarity of traces left by the earlier period have often led to our neglecting areas of continuity that are to be seen particularly from the reigns of Richard I (942-996) and Richard II (996-1026) on. Knowhow handed down from the Roman tradition, which was passed on throughout the Carolingian period, is to be found in the small parish churches dating back to before the years 1030/1040. Here the walls were still constructed in small bonding courses with quarry stone and alternating courses of brick producing a polychrome effect comparable to the Roman ramparts of the nearby city of Le Mans. The continued use of the herringbone masonry, called opus spicatum, follows an old tradition.continuités qui se manifestent surtout à partir des règnes de Richard Ier (942-996) et Richard II (996-1026).
This tradition is also present in the great buildings evoking the prestigious memory of Carolingian architecture, continued and developed in the Germanic empire, which was very much present in the affairs of the kingdom of France and the neighbouring regions in the eastern part of the duchy. Thus, early in the 11th century, Fécamp and Jumièges adopted plans characteristic of churches with a massive west-work between imposing towers. Normandy was, however, also open to the influence of the neighbouring regions of Maine, Anjou and the Loire and the presence among the dukes' entourage of Italian reforming monks who introduced into the duchy other models drawn from Italy, Burgundy and the highly influential style of the Abbey at Cluny.
Romanesque architecture in Normandy gradually defined itself in the great building programmes of Fécamp, Jumièges and Saint-Wandrille, Mont St Michel, Rouen or Bernay during the years 1020-1050. It was Bernay, in c. 1020/1030, that saw the decisive innovation of the three-storey elevation with large semicircular arcades carried on compound piers, an intermediate level of twin bays, and tall windows to light up the nave. Later, mastery of the builder's art made possible bold new features, with the opening of large galleries over the side aisles and the clerestory passage in the thickness of the wall in front of tall windows. The stages are very marked for example at Notre-Dame at Jumièges, completed in 1067, or Cerisy-la-Forêt and Saint- Etienne (St Stephen's) in Caen, in the late 11th century. Lastly, the earliest intersecting rib vaults to have survived in Normandy are those of the chancel and transept of Lessay, and of the nave at St Stephen's in Caen, dating from 1100 to 1120/1130.
The great Norman churches continued to follow the Benedictine plan inspired from Cluny with an aisled nave, transept with projecting arms, aisled chancel and, at the crossing, the lantern tower illuminating the sanctuary, good examples of this being the churches of St Stephen and St Nicholas in Caen. The east end with stepped apses (‘in echelon’) is the only type to have survived in Norman architecture, but east ends with an ambulatory did exist, for example, at Fécamp, Rouen and Jumièges. Beginning with the great building works at Caen during the reign of William the Conqueror, the so-called harmonic façade came to be used for most large edifices. The west gable between two towers reflected the plan of the aisled nave, while the superimposing of arches on the front copied the interior elevation.Finally, the hallmark of this builder's art is the use of regular ashlar courses of medium size in limestone, the best example of which still remains Caen stone, used throughout the Norman sphere of influence on both sides of the Channel.
The general features found in the large churches were adapted for a host of medium-sized and small monastery or parish churches in both town and country, employing a simplified layout with no side aisles, a nave reduced to two storeys, a flat east end, a single tower between the nave and chancel, or to one side, and, more infrequently, a porch-tower. It is then in the chancel, often with diagonal rib vaults in the 12th century, and most of all in the decoration and tower elevation, that we find the most original features of the Norman manner of building in stone.