Paris Wanderlust: Romanesque Paris — Hybrid Creatures

Romanesque Paris — Hybrid Creatures

One thing that fascinates me most about Paris architecture are the changes that a structure undergoes over time. For example, medieval churches sometimes took so long to build that the style mutated mid-construction, producing hybrids. I visited two hybrid churches in Paris built during the transition between Romanesque and Gothic styles: Église Saint-Germain-des-Prés and Église St-Julien-le-Pauvre.

Unlike other places in Europe, Paris does not have a “purely” Romanesque church. Although Romanesque was an international architectural style, it didn’t last as long in Paris, where the Gothic mania for height and light had already taken hold.

(Actually, Paris does have a purely Romanesque church, but it’s in a category of its own. I’ll save it for the end of the post.)

Église Saint-Germain-des-Prés

3 Place Saint-Germain des Prés (6e)

Saint-Germain-des-Prés, the oldest church in Paris, was built during the 11th and 12th centuries on the ruins of Merovingian churches destroyed by marauding Vikings. Like those earlier unprotected churches, Saint-Germain-des-Prés was built in the fields (“des prés“), outside city walls.

The squared and heavyset bell tower with its arched windows is solidly Romanesque:

Inside, the church’s nave and choir could be described as a harmonized blend of Romanesque and early Gothic, or Romano-Gothic. The curved arches in the nave echo the older Romanesque style, whereas the vaulted ceiling — while not yet soaring — registers “Gothic.”

The pillars and columns of the interior are being restored to reveal vivid colours and patterns:

Église St-Julien-le-Pauvre

St-Julien-le-Pauvre, with it heavy columns, thick walls, and rounded arches and windows, is the most consistently Romanesque church in Paris. Even so, a vaulted Gothic choir with pointed windows (to the right in the image below) was appended later.

Église St-Julien-le-Pauvre (built mid-12th to mid-13th centuries), 1 Rue Saint-Julien le Pauvre (5e)

Like a hybrid creature in a medieval bestiary, a Romanesque elephant’s body acquired a Gothic lion’s head.

The orphan Romanesque bell tower: Tour Clovis

Another surviving Romanesque bell tower of Paris is Tour Clovis, which was attached to the medieval Abbey Church of Ste-Geneviève. The abbey church was destroyed — not by Viking invasions, but during the French Revolution. Only the bell tower survived, which was later incorporated into Lycée Henri IV.

The lower part of the tower dates from the 11th century; the upper half was added later, in the 15th century.

65 Rue du Cardinal Lemoine (5e)

St-Martin-des-Champs Priory (Musée des Arts et Métiers)

The Musée des Arts et Métiers, located in the Gothic monastery of Saint-Martin-des-Champs, was closed for renovations during my last two visits to Paris. It tops my list for next time.

Below, the Romanesque apse and adjacent Statue of Liberty:


Paris’ imitation Romanesque church: Notre Dame de la Gare

Notre Dame de la Gare (named after the Gare District) offers Paris what she lacks: a Romanesque church from start to finish. To be accurate: Romanesque Revival, of the mid-19th century.

The three apses of Note Dame de la Gare, characteristic of Romanesque style:

Architect: Claude Naissant (1801-1879), Notre Dame de la Gare (built 1847-1859) 4 Place Jeanne d’Arc (13e)

Semi-circular arch above the portal, à la Romanesque:

From certain vantage points, Notre Dame de la Gare appears more Romanesque than Romanesque. Another touch of authenticity: It’s a bit dark inside . . .

The painting on the ceiling of the apse reflects the Byzantine influence on Romanesque churches, consistent with the Romanesque style of the 11th and 12th centuries. Gold stars on a dark green field provide a backdrop for paintings of a Virgin in Majesty and a crucifix.

Félix Jobbé-Duval, Virgin in Majesty with the Infant Jesus (1862)

The choir: rounded, rhythmic arches with modern frescoes:

Anders Osterlind, La Crucifixion (1953)

Next — Gothic Meets 19th Century: Notre Dame

Camille Martin

One response to “Paris Wanderlust: Romanesque Paris — Hybrid Creatures

  1. Pingback: Paris Wanderlust: Merovingian Architecture — Does It Even Exist in Paris? | Rogue Embryo

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