Appendix Medieval Architecture (under construction)


Once religion started to develop at the time people started to change their societies from hunter gathers to agriculture settlers, temples started to occur Göbekli Tepe, located in southern Turkey, is the oldest-known, existing temple in the world. It was built approximately 11,000 years ago.

This continued during the Mesopotamian period in Sumerian, Akkadian, Assyrian, and Babylonian civilisations. The most common temple architecture of Mesopotamia is the structure of sun-baked bricks called Ziggurat, having the form of a terraced step pyramid with flat upper terrace where shrine or temple stood.

The Egyptian temples were meant as places for the gods to reside on earth. They were also of economic significance as they stored and redistributed grain.

Greek and Roman Architecture

Though today we call most Greek religious buildings “temples,” the ancient pagans would have referred to a temenos, or sacred precinct. Its sacredness, often connected with a holy grove, was more important than the building itself, as it contained the open air altar on which the sacrifices were made. The building which housed the cult statue in its naos was originally a rather simple structure, but by the middle of the 6th century BCE had become increasingly elaborate. The Greek temple architecture was also influential in the development of the Roman temples, with the Etruscan being the first to introduce them in Rome, they built in 509BCE  the Jupiter Optimus Maximus Capitolinus (OMC) on the Capitoline Hill. It remained the chief temple of ancient Rome and became the basis of all future temples in the Empire. It was sacred to the Capitoline Triad consisting of Jupiter and his companion deities, Juno and Minerva.

Roman temples usually faced east or toward the rising sun, but the specifics of the orientation are often not known today; there are also notable exceptions, such as the Pantheon which faces north.

The differences between the Greek and Roman temples were not major. The Greek temples had staircases around the total complex, the Romans only in front of the facade. Their podiums are lower and in the early stages they were already built in stone, this only started to happen in Rome after the sacking of the city by the Gauls in 386BCE, until that time the Roman temples were built out of wood, mud brick and terracotta. The Greek temples also had a free standing colonnade around the complex.

The Romans started to built coloni outside Rome such as Cosa, Norba, Folari and Novi, where they replicated the architectural and city and road  structures of Rome.

Early Christian architecture

Medieval architecture developed from Roman and Byzantine styles. The Greek and Roman temples were not seen as suitable for the new religion. There are only a few examples of converted pagan temples one of the we saw in Syracusa on Sicily ( see clip).

The majority of the early Christian churches were based on the Roman basilica.  These were large roofed halls erected for transacting business and disposing of legal matters. Such buildings usually contained interior colonnades that divided the space, giving aisles or arcaded spaces at one or both sides, with an apse at one end, where the magistrates sat, often on a slightly raised dais. The central aisle tended to be wide and was higher than the flanking aisles, so that light could penetrate through the clerestory windows. An interesting example of  such a basilica is the Saint Pierre aux Nonnain in Metz.

Byzantine Architecture

It was the dome that started to differentiate the Byzantine style from the Roman style. Domes were already in use in the Persian Empire, Syria and in Armenia.

Constantine’s design of the new(basilica) church had a centre nave with or without one aisle at each side and an apse at the eastern end and covered by a semi-circular dome: on a raised platform sat the bishop and or the priests. The western end was finished with a Atrium that later developed into a Portico.

The first one was built at Constantine’s  palace complex in Trier.

Later additions included a (Martyrium, for the relics of saints) and a Baptistery that had a bath that allowed for full immersion.

From the 6th century onwards they also became used in the (Eastern) Roman Empire. The most famous one is the Hagia Sophia in Constantinople, built in 535. The early Byzantine architects did find a solution to build a round dome on a square plan.

The Byzantine art that was used to decorate these churches is amongst the richest art in history. A good example is the cathedral of Monreale in Sicily (see video clip).

Carolingian architecture

Charlemagne’s palace and basilica in Aachen.

Romanesque Architecture

The Romanesque architecture might have inherited its name from the Romans. However, this style evolved between 600 and 1000  in the Byzantine style which became the example for the Carolingian architecture (for example the Dom in Aachen).

A key element of the Romanesque architecture are the round arches. They were the key element to built strength in bridges, city gates, city buildings and so on. Another key element that was copied from the Romans was the claustrum, a rectangular open space surrounded by covered walks or open galleries, this became the square cloisters in at abbeys,

There is strong evidence that the Romanesque style that spread through Europe originated in Lombardy in northern Italy – where the typical blind gallery (Lombard Band) first appeared – and through the international monastic network spread throughout the continent. For the introduction of the Romanesque style in the  Low Countries, Frécamp Abbey in Normandy and Fontenay Abbey have been influential and perhaps above all the Abbey of Cluny. The last one is mentioned as the example for the Klaarkamp Abbey in Frisia [1. A study of Romanesque Church Architecture in Friesland, Theo Lambooy].

By combining features of Western Roman, Byzantine and Carolingian styles, Romanesque architecture reached its peak between 1050 and 1200 and is known by its massive quality, its thick walls, round arches, sturdy piers, groin vaults, large towers and decorative arcading. Each building has clearly defined forms and they are frequently of very regular, symmetrical plan so that the overall appearance is one of simplicity when compared with the Gothic buildings that were to follow.

The ornaments used have also strong Germanic and Celtic elements in it as well Arabic motives.

The style can be identified right across Europe, despite regional characteristics and different materials.  The style lasted to well into the 13th century when it became mixed with Gothic style which has started to emerge in the 12th century. Because of the influences from the Franks in the Holy Land also here some good examples still exist, for example the remnants of the Hospitaller Compound in Acre (see video clip) and parts – especially the bell tower and the entrance area –  of the Holy Sepulchre church in Jerusalem (see video clip).

There was also a regional style known as the Rhineland Romanesque architectures, key examples include several abbeys, notably Mainz, Worms, Speyer and Bamberg. In Cologne then the largest city north of the Alps, a very important group of large city churches survives largely intact.

In the Low Countries examples include: the  Saint-Servaas Basilica and the Basilica of Our Lady in Maastricht (Onze-Lieve-Vrouwebasiliek), the Saint-Plechelmus basilica in Oldenzaal (see videoclip), de church of the Abbey of  Rolduc in Kerkrade, the remnants of the St. Pieters church  and the  St. Jans church in Utrecht, the crypte of the Lebuïnus church in Deventer. The chapel at the Valkhof in Nijmegen and the Munster church in Roermond (see videoclip). The 12th century Saint-Catharina chapel in Lemiers (Limburg) is the oldest known remaining stone church in the Netherlands

Several well preserved Romanesque village churches still remain in Friesland and Groningen.

A well preserved Romaneque toen is Erice in Sicily (see video clip).


From Romanesque to Gothic (Romanogothic)

As a result of the economic growth  that started as a a result  of the Medieval warmth, large numbers of people started to move into the emerging cities. A t the same time as  a result of the the rival of the Church which started at the end of  10th century the function of the building itself started to change. With renewed confidence and authority significant larger number of people flocked to the churches. This required a rethink of of the design of these buildings. These new buildings had to facilitate the bringing together of people from diverse backgrounds for the purpose of participating in mass services and included clergy, monks, secular clergy and secular rulers and of course the large masses of city parishioners. On top of that many of these churches also had to cope with large numbers of pilgrims.

This required a architectural rethink . The main building innovation that assisted in the change-over to Gothic architecture – supporting the relative small number of people in villages and towns prior to these mass societal changes – was the invention of the pointed arch. A mixture of these these two styles started to emerge in the late 11th century, it happened gradually and was a result of a range of small cumulative technical changes based on the new arch. This happened first with the churches that were fitted with stone or brick barrel vaults. Where such vaults spanned a single nave-space it was dependent on the full-length stone or supporting brick wall.

The new Gothic style, that took the pressure away from the walls and moved it to the columns, delivered light and airiness and that allowed for  much larger windows. This also allowed the master mason to replace they heavy stone barrel vault  with a new lightweight timber ceiling.

In many such instances instances the ‘corbel’ can still be seen in brick or stone at the intersection of the wall and the new ceiling. This course was previously the start of the earlier masonry barrel vault.

The change from stone to timber vaults reduced however the effects of the Gregorian chants (see: Chrodegang) and other vocal music that  relied strongly on the acoustics created by stone vaults [2. A study of Romanesque Church Architecture in Friesland, Theo Lambooy].

The church in Ootmarsum (see video clip)  is an interesting variant it is a combination of a so called hall church where the nave and side aisles of approximately equal height, often united under a single immense roof and the so called pseudo-basilica in this style there is a nave and two smaller side aisles, however what is missing here from the traditional basilica is the clerestory (clear storey), at the upper level, the walls of which rise above the rooflines of the lower aisles and are pierced with windows. This church is further classified as a Westphalia Hall church and is the only one of its kind in the Netherlands.

The above mentioned Munster church in Roermond is also seen as romanogothic.

Gothic Style

The abbey church from Saint Dennis north of Paris has already featured before, it has been a key centre of European developments since Merovingian times and it therefore doesn’t come as surprise that it became a centre point for innovations. Around 600 it became one of the first trading centres of Europe and in 1120 it was the cradle of an innovation in architecture that became known as Gothic – a name given by the Italians referring to the northern Europeans as barbarians. The Germanic tribe that apparently had made the most impact on the Mediterranean people were the Goths.

Abbot Suger of St Dennis wanted to take full advantages of all these Gothic innovations and he wanted to see more light in his dark Romanesque church in order to better honour God, the King of Light. Financially supported by the French Court, he designed a passage behind the main altar with chapels were the relicts could be venerated by the faithful, this ambulatory was completed in 1144.

The development is characteristic for its period. The Church had been able to finally organised itself into a powerful united institution, there was the economic boom during the Medieval Warm and this was the time when cities rapidly started to emerge and grow.  Knowledge was dominated by the Church and this allowed for what is known as the” infallible medieval faith‘. The glorification of the Church was reaching its peak and the faithful flocked to churches to adore the relicts, the saints, God and Maria. No money was spared, neither by the nobility nor by the faithful. The close relation between church and state also saw large amounts of public money spent on these buildings.

The new cathedral  became an overnight success and in no time churches in the region rivalled each other to built bigger and better churches that celebrated light.

Work started on the Notre Dame in Paris in 1160, we visited this church way back in the 1970s and 1980s. The famous cathedral of Rheims was started in 1212, a church we visited in 2006, with its central nave of 37.95 meters, it is one of the largest of its kind.

While the core of  of the Gothis style lay north  of the river Loire, local styles evolved in England, Brabant, the Baltic’s and a more distinct different style in Italy.

On average it took 60 years to built a cathedral, but of course much longer if the money was running out. The new lighter builder required at least 1500 trees and often required imports from overseas (Baltic). The basic design of a cathedral is less complex than is often thought, using very basic mathematics the right sizes could be calculated, using the Roman knowledge of the maths used in building the square cloisters and their relation to the length of the basilicas/churches. Templates were used for the various stones that needed to be cut and they often did not exceed between 100 and 200 different templates, so it was possible to greatly simplify that process.  Nevertheless – under the leadership of the master mason (architect) – the building required a huge organisation with many tradesmen and labourers involved.  As mentioned the major invention was that the  pressure was directed towards the columns and the further invention of the flying buttresses allowed for even more windows, more flexibility and less stone. The invention of the rib vault, during the Late Gothic period, allowed for larger ceilings and  greatly improved the opportunity for more and more  elaborated decorations.

Stone cutters made up the largest workforce, but interestingly the transport of the stones was often four times more expensive as the stone itself.  Cranes were reinvented (they had existed in Roman times, but that technology was lost). They were put on the scaffolding higher and higher onto the cathedral. Treadmills were used to lift the weight. With poor technology and no safety measures in place the jobs related to these activities  were dangerous and often led to deadly accidents.  Blind people were often deployed in the treadmills as they were able to deliver the best results. Atrociousness conditions also applied to the lime burners, a process that was done in kilns and took 48 hours. Both the CO2 that was breathed in and the handling of the lime was extremely hazardous and most of these workers died young (in their early thirties).

Many cathedrals were modernised  several times between 1100 and 1500 as kings, bishops and cities tried to outmanoeuvre each other to implement the new innovations in order to increase their splendour and show off their wealth.

Gothic remained the dominant architectural style to well into the 16th century. However by that time patrons started to move away from cathedral modernisation and instead started to spend money on building their own chapels. Slowly secularisation also started to play a role and  Gothic projects were no longer just limited to churches, town hall, market halls, castles and many official buildings were built in this flamboyant style.

The explosion in architectural activities coincided with the increase in teaching in mathematics based on the Arab sciences which were increasingly taught at the rapidly emerging cathedral schools.

By the 1500s they golden age of cathedral building had ended. Money was running out and the Reformation also played a key role in the end of this period. In England and Northern Europe many cathedrals were severely damaged and in the south many cathedrals received a major Baroque overhaul

As a result of a decrease in funds as well as because of those other development, in particular in northern Europe there are several Gothic cathedrals that were never ‘properly’ finished, others were only finished in the 19th and 20th centuries (e.g Cologne).

This form of architecture was so popular that it received a full rival in the 19th century as ‘Neogothic’


Brabantine Gothic

During Medieval times Brabant was one of the most vibrant regions in Europe, in particular its cities Brussels, Antwerp, Leuven and ‘s-Hertogenbosch, with

Cathedral builders (OLV Antwerp)

Mechelen as an enclave also firmly under the influence of Brabant where amongst the richest places. A clear reminder of the wealth of this land is its architecture of this period, known as Brabantine Gothic (1350 -1550), with cathedrals and town halls which are famous around the globe. During various trips we have visited many of these splendid buildings, including the highlight of this style of architecture, our very beloved St John’s cathedral in ‘s-Hertogenbosch which I have been visiting ever since my childhood and hardly a visit to the Netherlands will pass without a visit to Our Lady of Den Bosch. Other highlights of Brabantine Gothic include: St Peter in Leuven, St Rombouts in Mechelen and St Gudula in Brussels. As well as the town halls and merchant houses around many a splendid square.

The buildings are all characterised by its light coloured stone and it rich and detailed decorations. The architect/builders of many of these buildings are members of the Keldermans family. They originated in Mechelen and some 15 members of the family have been amongst the leading sculptors, architects and glass decorators between 1370 and 1530.

While all of the Brabantine Gothic buildings are exceptional, the church of Our Lady in Antwerp (Onze Lieve Vrouwe Kerk) is certainly ranking amongst the top. In 2005 we spend there several hours wandering and listing to the stories from one of those incredible knowledgeable local guides, what a privilege to walk into such a person

Netherlandish Renaissance

In the late 15th century, when Italian Renaissance influences begin to show, the influence of the Early Netherlandish masters, such as Van Eyck, Rogier van der Weyden, and Memling, leads to a largely religious and narrative style of painting.

The first painter showing the marks of the new era is Hieronymus Bosch. His work is strange and full of seemingly irrational imagery, making it difficult to interpret. Most of all it seems surprisingly modern, introducing a world of dreams that highly contrasts with the traditional style of the Flemish masters of his day.

During our visits we have admired many of these artworks. Highlights were:

  • Works of Hieronymus Bosch and the Brueghel Family at the Noord Brabants Museum in Den Bosch.
  • Paintings from Jan van Eyck in the OLV cathedral in Antwerp
  • Jan van Eyck’s famous ‘Adoration of the Lamb’ altarpiece in the St Bavo cathedral in Gent (1432),
  • Moses Well in Dijon (1399) sculptured by Klaas Sluter from Haarlem
  • The Last Judgment by Rogier van der Weyden in the Hospice de Beaune

Architecture inventions

Romanesque Style

With the building explosion in the 11th century we start to get a better picture of the architecture used in the Middle Ages. There are only a small number of buildings left from the Carolingian period, most notably the Basilica of Charlemagne in Aachen, which dates back to 800.  Howewver it is not until the 11th century before we see a large increase in large stone buildings. These buildings are known as Romanesque architecture, which of course is a continuation from earlier styles such as the Carolingian buildings.


Over the years we have visited several of the magnificent buildings. Perhaps one of the most impressive of all is the little parish church of San Leo in Italy, a pre-Romanesque church dating back to around 700!


We visited the Abbey of Fontenay and the beautiful town of Vézelay in 2006.

The Abbey was founded in 1185 by St Bernard of Clairvaux. Listed as UNESCO world heritage, the site is very impressive with its abbey church the beautiful vaulted chapter house with its magnificent balustrades

The abbey of Vézelay in the middle of the 9th century. It was from here that in 1148 St Bernard of Clairvaux called for 2nd crusade. It has been argued that St Bernard was more powerful in the Roman Catholic Church that the pope, he certainly was more popular and was able to recruit tens of thousands of ordinary people as well as armies of kings and knights.


We visited the energy radiating Burgundian  Sainte Madeleine church where since around 1000 relicts of her have been kept in the crypt, Louise in particular felt this very powerful energy spot. There have been rumours and legends for millennia that Maria Magdalena, with or without her lover Jesus had moved to France. Vézelay has been a key pilgrim destination for more than a thousand years and is a key stopover on the pilgrim route to Santiago de Compostela in Spain. The church also has 138 unique and very interesting and entertaining capitals based on stories from the scriptures and The Golden Legend.

From here in 1190 King Philippe-Auguste of France and King Richard the Lionheart of England left for the 3rd crusade in 1190.


We also visited Auxerre, with its beautiful St Etienne cathedral. However, we were a bit unlucky here as the famous crypt and the abbey were closed when we were there.


Brabantine Gothic


Krak de Chevaliers in the Crusaders County of Tripoli is one of the most impressive buildings from the Middle Ages. The fortress was based on the architecture of Gravensteen, the castle of the Counts of Flanders in Ghent.

Gothic Cathedrals

1352 OLV Antwerp

OLV Antwerpen

1321 St Sulpitius

1325 OLV ten Poel in Diest

1337 OLV Aarschot

1350 St Waldetrudus Herentals

1350 St John ’s Hertogenbosch

St Jan Den Bosch

1312-1342 Mechelen

St Rombouts Mechelen


The History of Northwestern Europe (TOC)