Saturday, October 22, 2011

Romanesque and Gothic at Tewkesbury

click photo to enlarge
Today's photograph shows the interior of the nave of Tewkesbury Abbey, Gloucestershire. A Saxon abbey founded c.715AD was the first building on this site, but nothing of it remains today. The present church is a Norman foundation of the eleventh century with most of the structure dating from the 1100s, a little from the 1200s, the ambulatory chapels and vaulting the 1300s, and small areas elsewhere of more recent dates.

Looking at the photograph we can see that the drum piers (columns), the rounded arches and the triforium (dark passage with light shining from it) are of the Norman (or Romanesque) period. They were complete by the time of the abbey's consecration in the 1120s and are characteristically heavy compared with the lighter appearance of the later Gothic style. For the student of architectural history there are two particular points of interest in this photograph. Firstly, the piers are relatively tall and plain, a regional characteristic of the Norman style whilst the triforium is quite small, almost insignificant compared with most similar buildings of the period (compare with this example at Peterborough Cathedral). The second thing to note is that the vaulting of both the aisles and the nave dates from 1330-1350, what is stylistically called the Decorated period of Gothic architecture.

The rounded arches of the Norman period were poor at spanning spaces as wide as a nave and consequently most Norman naves had flat timber ceilings, rather than stone vaulting. However, the narrower aisles were often covered with tunnel or groin vaulting. Here at Tewkesbury the Norman nave had no clerestory so the present one was inserted in the fourteenth century when the lierne vaulting of the nave and the quadripartite with ridge ribs vaulting of the aisles was built. To anyone who visits large churches regularly the Gothic vaulting on Romanesque piers looks odd. It also accounts for the half-hidden and relatively ineffectiveness of the clerestory which was squeezed in and then partly obscured by the springing of the vaulting. However, in the middle ages, as today, architects were keen to build in a contemporary way, and the idea of building vaulting or a clerestory in 1340 in a style from over one hundred years earlier was thought ridiculous, just as building today in the manner of the late Victorians would be. It would, wouldn't it?

photograph and text (c) T. Boughen

Camera: Canon
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 24mm
F No: f7.1
Shutter Speed: 1/20
ISO: 2500
Exposure Compensation:  -0.33 EV
Image Stabilisation: On