The term Romanesque meaning from Rome, first surfaced around the early 19th Century, when French medievalists and archaeologists used it as a way to define the style of architecture in 11th–12th Century Europe.
Unlike many architectural styles, Romanesque is not identified with a particular person or historical period, it developed over many years taking influences from the Carolingian, Ottonian, and Byzantine empires, along with some Germanic traditions. However, it’s primary influence is from Roman masonry architecture, both in terms of construction techniques and materials.
The style flourished in England after the Norman conquest in 1066 and within 5 to 10 years, almost all buildings were built in Romanesque, or Norman as it was better known across the country. Two building types dominated the landscape — churches and castles; both used as an instrument of government, the Normans wanted to show who was in charge politically and culturally.
The majority of elements and features of Romanesque or Norman were actually exclusive to churches rather than non-religious buildings. This was an era where religion was pervasive and pilgrimages to shrines became more common, which brought on the need for churches to be bigger and to develop new structural arrangements to house the increasing number of pilgrims.
However, there are common structural and decorative features of the style that can be found throughout all Romanesque buildings.
- vaults in a number of different forms:
- barrel: semi-circular vault
- rib: groin vault with ribbing
- groin: two barrel vaults intersecting
- half-barrel: in the shape of a quarter circle
- semicircular (round headed) arches: used for windows, doors, and arcades
- piers: to support the structure, and usually decorated with pilasters or half-columns
- buttresses: like piers but on the exterior of the structure to counteract the thrust of an arch or vault
- towers: large ones over the crossing of the nave and transept and smaller ones at the church's western end
- spiral stairs
- elaborately decorated doorways
Romanesque decoration is often quite simple with the use of geometric shapes such as full and half-circles, and interlocking arches. Below are a few other decorative elements that can feature on Romanesque buildings:
- chevron: mould in zig-zag form
- beakhead: heads of creatures with beaks
- capitals: mainly volutes and cushions
- polychromy: painting in different colours
- blind arcades: series of arches on the exterior purely for aesthetics